Chicago’s professional sports franchises will likely be allowed to offer sports betting inside their arenas after the City Council voted in favor of a proposal despite opposition from a possible casino owner in the city.
Illinois passed a gambling expansion bill in June 2019 that would allow the state to increase the number of brick-and-mortar casinos in its state, as well as legalize sports betting. The state’s first sportsbook opened less than a year later. But unlike in other markets, the state’s professional sports franchises were not permitted to operate a sportsbook onsite, like teams can in Arizona and Washington D.C.
In the nation’s capital, the arena that houses the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards became the first professional sports stadium to allow for onsite sports betting after it announced a partnership with William Hill in October 2019.
Last month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that she supported sports betting operations at the homes of the city’s professional sports teams. The Chicago City Council echoed her support by voting 41-9 in favor of legislation that would allow for that to happen. A final vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
The measure would tax gross sports betting revenue in Chicago at 2%, which would be in addition to the 15% state tax and the 2% Cook County tax. Each stadium would be permitted to have up to 15 betting kiosks in the facility.
According to a report from a local news outlet, Lightfoot’s and subsequently the City Council’s support came after owners of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks put their support behind the new proposal. Before November, Lightfoot was in opposition to allowing these franchises to accept wagers.
The main opposition to the sports betting expansion came from Neil Bluhm, the billionaire owner of Rush Street Gaming.
Bluhm’s company submitted two separate bids to get a gaming license that would allow him to build a Las Vegas-style casino in Downtown Chicago. Rush Street, which has its headquarters in Chicago, already owns a casino about 20 miles northwest of Chicago and has three other casinos located in Pennsylvania and New York.
Bluhm believes that by allowing sports betting in those stadiums, lawmakers are already putting the city’s eventual casino at a competitive disadvantage. He told the city council that it could cost the future property between $10 million and $12 million annually.
Early estimates have the casino generating about $200 million per year for the city’s government, which will be used to continue funding the pension funds of the city’s police and firefighters.
While Bluhm’s company is considered to be the front runner for the Chicago casino, other gaming giants like Bally’s and Hard Rock International, which just purchased a Las Vegas Strip casino, are in the hunt for the license as well.
Applicants began presenting formal plans for the casino last September and the city will choose the winner next year. The downtown casino is expected to open its doors in 2025.