Chicago Sports Venues Gear Up for Sports Betting
It would be hard to argue against the fact that Chicago has some of the most diehard fans in professional sports. Every franchise has a long history of success that spans quite a few years.
Pro sports in the Windy City are represented in the NFL by the Chicago Bears. The NBA has the Chicago Bulls. MLB has two city teams with the Cubs in the National League and the White Sox in the American League. The Chicago Blackhawks are an anchor franchise of the NHL.
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When the state of Illinois legalized sports betting in 2019, one of the provisions of the new law was the ability to operate a retail sportsbook in professional sports arenas and stadiums.
However, enough opposition to this change led to a ban of legal sportsbooks in Chicago’s pro sports venues.
The situation came to light earlier this year when the Bears started to explore alternative options to playing their home games at venerable Soldier Field. Team ownership was in favor of lifting the ban but city officials held tight to their stance.
At the present time, the Bears continue to weigh the idea of building a brand new football stadium on land the team recently purchased in Arlington which is outside the Chicago city limits.
Backed by the support of ownership groups for four of the city’s professional teams, the Chicago City Council was forced to rethink its position. Earlier in December, the City Council’s Committee on Zoning and License voted to lift the ban through a new city ordinance.
The 19-7 vote on the new city ordinance noted some existing opposition. However, the margin was more than enough to pave the way for retail sportsbooks at Chicago sports facilities. That list includes:
--Soldier Field (Bears)
--Wrigley Field (Cubs)
--Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox)
--United Center (Bulls and Blackhawks)
Also on the approved list for retail sports betting is the Winthrust Arena as the home of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.
The key selling point to gain passage was the additional 2% tax on sportsbook revenue in each of the five locations. This will be added to the state’s existing 15% tax rate on sports betting revenue along with another 2% tax imposed by Cook County.
The primary opposition to retail sportsbooks in Chicago pro sports venues was backed by Neil Bluhm. He is the co-founder of Rush Street Interactive as a successful sportsbook operator in Illinois.
His company is looking to secure a license for a casino project in downtown Chicago. It submitted two of the five proposals under consideration. Bluhm’s company has a stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines while he personally has a minority ownership share in both the Bulls and White Sox.
Any retail sportsbook facility in the city will be subject to an initial licensing fee of $50,000. The city ordinance also contains an eventual $25,000 fee for an annual renewal.
The mad dash to be the first pro sports venue with legal sports betting is now underway. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has plans to open the sportsbook at Wrigley Field in time for the start of the 2022 MLB regular season.
His team signed a strategic partnership with DraftKings in September of 2020. That deal was worth a reported $100 million. Wrigley Field is now on track to become the first MLB venue to offer live betting on the games.
It is safe to say that the other four pro sports facilities in the city will be busy this winter formulating their plans to launch a retail sportsbook.
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