Amid Neil Bluhm's lobby against legalization

Chicago Mayor sees no evidence of legal sports betting harm on future casino

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
2021-11-30
United States
Reading time 2:05 min

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday denied having changed her mind on sports betting and said there is no hard evidence that allowing sportsbooks in and around five stadiums would “cannibalize” revenue from a Chicago casino.

Lightfoot said she would never do anything that would meaningfully compromise casino revenue, which is dedicated to shore up police and fire pension funds, and there is no evidence that casino revenue losses to sports betting would be severe, as reported by Chicago Sun-Times.

Her statements come after casino magnate Neil Bluhm, Rush Street Gaming co-founder and chairman, earlier this month lined up a team of lobbyists against a possible Chicago sports betting legalization. Bluhm is now pushing an effort to convince the City Council not to lift the ban on this form of wagering.

“There’s been some dire warnings that have been issued by some who … already use sportsbook at their own casinos and who are trying to kill sportsbook here in Chicago. They have not put forth any convincing evidence that … somehow it’s gonna cannibalize a casino here in Chicago. ... We’ve seen zero indication that that’s the case,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve heard ... a lot of talk by people who would profit by not allowing the sports teams to have a sportsbook of their own. But talk is talk. Facts and data — that’s what I’m about.”

Lightfoot noted sports betting has been legal in Illinois since the General Assembly authorized it in 2019. She expects an amended ordinance lifting the Chicago ban to be approved by the City Council in December.

Under the plan, sports betting would be authorized at Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena, or in a “permanent building or structure located within a five-block radius” of those stadiums.

“Of course, there will be some impact [on a Chicago casino]. There’s never been any suggestion that it won’t impact it. The reality is, you can’t watch a sporting event now without seeing an ad for FanDuel … or DraftKings. … Sportsbook is in our DNA and blood system now in the city of Chicago and really across the country where it’s legal,” Lightfoot said. “So, the question is, how do we manage this in a way that benefits Chicago taxpayers? That’s really the only question.”

Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming company is part of two separate groups vying to build a Chicago casino. And his Des Plaines-based Rivers Casino already has a sportsbook that stands to lose business if sports betting is legalized in Chicago.

During a subject matter hearing earlier this month, Bluhm argued that lifting the city’s ban on sports betting would have a “material negative impact” on both a Chicago casino and city revenues from it — to the tune of $88 million, about 10% of the “projected gaming revenue” — regardless of which of five potential sites and development teams is picked.

Specifically, Bluhm argued Chicago casino revenue from slots and tables would drop by $61 million a year with stadium sports betting. The city would lose 20% of that — about $12 million. The state would lose $9 million.

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