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Sportsbook Ordinance Set For Discussion As Teams Jockey For Early Gambling Revenue

The proposal would allow fans to place bets at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena.

Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

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CHICAGO — A City Council committee is set to test aldermen’s appetites on Monday to kickstart a stalled ordinance that would open the door to new sports betting hubs at Chicago’s arenas and ballparks. The measure has spent months on the shelf amid a behind-the-scenes battle between sports teams and a new round of would-be casino operators who are looking to consolidate control of sportsbook gambling.

A joint meeting of the council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards is set to hold a subject matter hearing at 1 p.m. Monday to chew over the ordinance (O2021-3243), which Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) first introduced to the City Council in July.

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Burnett’s proposal would allow fans to place bets at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena. Venues could apply for a “primary license” for an initial $50,000, and an additional $25,000 per year. Third-party service providers could apply for “secondary licenses” to operate sportsbooks at the venues for $10,000 followed by a $5,000 annual rate.

He introduced the ordinance with heavy backing from the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks. The teams have circulated a pamphlet to the City Council predicting that allowing sportsbooks at arenas and ballparks would net $79 million each year in “direct and indirect tax revenue to the state, county and city.”

“Without action, Chicago would continue to lose patrons to sports wagering facilities outside the city limits or utilize mobile betting services,” the one-page document concludes. “The city would also miss out on incremental job creation, as well as incidental food, beverage, and amusement tax revenues.”

But as soon as Burnett introduced the measure, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) banished it to the council’s Committee on Committees and Rules, citing a procedural technicality.

Burnett said at the time that he was carrying the ordinance to boost the United Center, which is in his ward, but that casino operators were “trying to block” the measure because they would rather concentrate sports wagering at their own locations. 

The rules committee voted in September to put the ordinance back on track by re-referring it to the zoning and license joint committee. 

Related: Legalized sports betting ordinance set to be rescued from Rules Committee 

The measure had been scheduled for a vote on Oct. 12, but that meeting was canceled days earlier at the request of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, according to aldermen. A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not comment at the time on the move. 

But zoning committee chair Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said the meeting was delayed so that city leaders could take stock of applicants for a forthcoming Chicago casino, whose bids came due at the end of last month.

Lightfoot’s office on Oct. 29 announced the city had received five applications to operate a city-backed “casino-resort:” two applications by Bally’s Corporation, one by Hard Rock International and two by Rush Street Gaming, owned by billionaire Neil Bluhm.

A spokesperson for Bluhm declined to comment on the measure. A spokesperson for Hard Rock said the organization is “excited to participate in the [request for proposals] process to bring our unique brand of world class entertainment to the city of Chicago at ONE Central” but did not comment on Burnett’s ordinance. 

Multiple sources have confirmed to The Daily Line that casino applicants are driving opposition to the sportsbook ordinance.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who chairs the license committee and is a co-sponsor of Burnett’s ordinance, said last month that she will keep working with her colleagues to push the sportsbook legalization ordinance past the finish line.

The teams “want to do it now, before the casinos get here,” Mitts said. “The question is, who’s getting in front? It’s all about the revenue.”

The teams have not let up on their advocacy for the measure. A spokesperson for the United Center, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks wrote in a statement to The Daily Line last week that they “appreciate Mayor Lightfoot’s continued support of the legislation and the administration for keeping their commitment to see this pass the full city council this month.”

“We look forward to continuing to assist in that effort when Aldermen meet next week to discuss this matter,” the spokesperson said. “We have responded to all concerns, provided data and more importantly, provided members with facts over fiction.”

Asked about the ordinance during an unrelated news conference on Friday, Lightfoot demurred, saying reporters “have to wait to see what the testimony is on Monday.”

The Sun-Times reported in September that lobbyist John R. Daley, nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and cousin to Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), is whipping for the ordinance on behalf of the White Sox.

Thompson, whose ward includes Guaranteed Rate Field, told The Daily Line last month that he came to support the ordinance after initially asking “what’s in it for the city.”

“This ordinance isn’t a huge moneymaker for the city directly, but…there’s a lot of state money that would be generated that will come back in the form of support for the city itself,” Thompson said on Oct. 8. “This is not going to compete with casinos and gambling. This is more of an incidental entertainment…and if it helps drive more fans or generate revenue for my restaurants in the community and the people who work there, then I support it.”

The Illinois General Assembly passed a bill (HB 3136) at the end of last month’s veto session that would legalize sports betting at Wintrust Arena, where the Chicago Sky play. Sky owner Michael Alter was fined $5,000 for unregistered lobbying after asking Lightfoot to publicly support the bill.

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