Ban lift backed by Mayor

Chicago stadium sports betting approved by key City Council committee, moves to full floor

Wrigley Field, Cubs' stadium, is among five which would develop a sportsbook.
2021-12-14
Reading time 2:09 min

Sports betting at Chicago stadiums has received a key push after a joint City Council committee agreed on Monday to lift the ban on this form of wagering, which would allow sportsbooks in and around five stadiums. 

The Committee on Zoning and License has now advanced the stalled ordinance to the full council after the addition of a clause aimed at promoting diversity. The decision follows weeks of lobbying and debate on the subject, and the mayor’s ordinance was approved by a vote of 19 to 7, reports Chicago Sun Times.

Before the final vote, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the team was “ready to go today.” The baseball club has signed a $100 million partnership with sports betting giant DraftKings, which would allow Wrigley Field to house the first stadium sportsbook in Major League Baseball.

“With your approval of this ordinance, construction would begin immediately with the aim of opening a restaurant with a sportsbook in time for the 2023 season,” Ricketts said. “This will create construction jobs and revenues now and permanent jobs in just over a year.”

Additionally, the Cubs Chairman said the ordinance would “provide additional resources” to the city’s pro sports teams, helping them compete. However, not all discourse around the subject has been amicable: Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox and Bulls Chairman, accused casino magnate and Des Plaines-based Rivers Casino owner Neil Bluhm of doublespeak.

What is perplexing is that Neil Bluhm, who does not want our buildings to have sportsbooks, met with us on several occasions seeking to operate sportsbooks in our buildings. And that was long after the casino was approved for Chicago,” Reinsdorf said, according to Sun Times.

“At that time, he had no assurance he would be chosen to operate a casino in Chicago and was not concerned that these books would, in any way, cannibalize whoever was chosen to operate the casino,” he added. “It makes me wonder if he had gotten his way back then, would we be having this meeting today?”

Bluhm’s public position, who has not made mention of that earlier meeting, is that what he calls the “five mini-casinos” in the stadiums would “take visitors and money away” from a Chicago casino. He further claims the city could lose “$10 million to $12 million” per year. Bluhm had urged the committee to vote no on the ordinance.

The City Council floor is now set to discuss the ordinance following the Committee on Zoning and License approval. A clause aimed at appeasing the Black Caucus was added during the Monday meeting, although local media has described it as “having no teeth.”

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

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city could not go further as state law “doesn’t give a lot of flexibility,” she still called the commitment made by sports moguls “historic” and said the city will continue to work along with them in an effort to make sure “they make good on those promises.”

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