No Words Minced as Sports Betting at Chicago Stadiums Passes Joint City Council Committee

  • The ordinance allowing sports betting at Chicago’s five stadiums passed easily, 19-7
  • The ordinance advanced despite a new minority set-aside clause reported to not have any teeth
  • White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf called out casino kingpin Neil Bluhm for changing his position
  • Bluhm urged the committee to vote no, stating it was “a big risk with no reward”
  • Committee chair Pat Dowell said a 2% city tax on betting would yield “peanuts” for Chicago
Wrigley Field
A joint city council approved an ordinance that will allow sports betting to take place in and around Chicago stadiums, such as Wrigley Field (pictured above). [Image:]

Heated lobbying and clashes

An ordinance to allow sports betting in and around Chicago’s five stadiums has passed out of a joint City Council Committee despite heated lobbying behind the scenes and industry kingpins clashing in public.

Sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach shared news of the committee’s lifting of the home rule ban on Monday:

Alderman Walter Burnett’s ordinance passed the Joint Committee for Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards and License and Consumer Protection by a strong 19-7 vote. The sports betting ordinance advanced thanks to the addition of a clause “without any teeth,” the Chicago Sun-Times said, aimed at appeasing the city’s Black Caucus.

The new clause affirms the city’s promise to “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity when issuing primary sports licenses” and “encourage” minority and women-owned businesses to apply.

The ordinance included late wording that gives the city the right to impose a 2% tax on revenue from all retail and mobile wagers made through a licensee at its location or within a five-block radius.

Clash of titans

Monday’s session saw heavy hitters from both side of Chicago’s sports and gaming market stepping up to the plate to give their testimonies, which were limited to three minutes each. The ordinance got the thumbs up from Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, and Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

goal of opening a sports bar-restaurant with a sportsbook in time for the 2023 MLB season

Before the vote, Ricketts said his team was “ready to go today” on its $100m tie-up with DraftKings that would see Wrigley Field host the first stadium sportsbook in Major League Baseball. Ricketts said building would start straightaway on approval of the ordinance, with the goal of opening a sports bar-restaurant with a sportsbook in time for the 2023 MLB season.

Reinsdorf, however, publically called out Chicago casino kingpin Neil Bluhm, who is against stadiums having sportsbooks.

Reinsdorf said he was perplexed that Bluhm “met with us on several occasions seeking to operate sportsbooks in our buildings […] long after the casino was approved for Chicago.” Reinsdorf also noted that Bluhm “had no assurance he would be chosen to operate a casino in Chicago, but was not concerned that these books would in any way cannibalize whoever was chosen to operate the casino.”

Bluhm’s oft-repeated position is that the “five mini-casinos” — Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center, Wintrust Arena, and Wrigley Field — would “take visitors and money away” from a Chicago casino.

Reinsdorf said he wondered if Bluhm “had gotten his way back then, would we be having this meeting today?”

Bluhm made no comment on meeting with Reinsdorf. Instead, he said: “Why take a chance like this? There’s a big risk with no reward. I urge you to vote no for this ordinance.”

Historic commitment, inflexible clause

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s take was that the “commitment” made by the captains of sports industry was “historic, given where they typically are.”

Concerning the minority set-aside clause, Mayor Lori Lightfoot admitted it wasn’t ideal, but that there wasn’t much wiggle room. “The state law doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility,” she said. The mayor nevertheless affirmed the city would “push [the sports tycoons] to make sure that they make good on those promises.”

Not all joint committee members saw it Lightfoot’s way, either, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Don’t vote for the banana in the tailpipe”

Far South Side Alderman Anthony Beale said: “This ordinance has not changed. We held it up last week because there was nothing in it [for minorities]. And there’s still nothing in it.”

He added: “Don’t vote for the banana in the tailpipe.”

Budget Committee Chair Pat Dowell concurred, stating the amended ordinance includes “zero benefits” for minorities. She remains concerned about the potential impact on casino revenues and about a 2% city tax on sports betting that she has said would yield “peanuts” for Chicago.

The ordinance could come up for a full Chicago City Council vote at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *