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Sports betting at arenas and stadiums would benefit Chicago

Professional sports venues have opened sportsbooks in Washington, D.C., and data shows that nearby casino revenue has climbed. Revenue from sportsbook licenses in Illinois already is earmarked by the state to support projects through Rebuild Illinois,

An odds board at a sports betting lounge. City Council is considering a plan to allow sportsbook betting at stadiums.
An odds board at a sports betting lounge. City Council is considering a plan to allow sportsbook betting at stadiums.
Wayne Parry/AP Photos

The Chicago City Council is considering an ordinance that would allow sportsbook facilities at or near the city’s five professional sports stadiums. The City Council should pass it.

A false narrative regarding the proposal has tarnished the conversation, and the record needs to be set straight. Sports betting facilities at five locations throughout Chicago will not negatively affect the success of a Chicago casino.

An independent gaming analysis commissioned by the Illinois Gaming Board to explore the feasibility of a Chicago casino also included an analysis, requested by the city, of the impact of sportsbooks. They can coexist, the examination showed, without negatively affecting revenue for the city from a Chicago casino.

Gaming analyst Grant Govertsen, whose firm conducted the study, testified to a joint City Council committee on Nov. 8 that “while sports betting has proliferated throughout the U.S. over the last few years, we have not seen any meaningful cannibalization of casino revenue as a result. We expect a similar dynamic to be seen in Chicago …”

In Washington, D.C., where professional sports venues have opened sportsbooks, data shows that nearby casino revenue has climbed. And Bally’s, a global leader in the industry that is also bidding on the Chicago casino license, has said it has no objection to the sportsbook proposal before the City Council.

So who does object? Gaming magnate Neil Bluhm, whose sportsbook at his Rivers Casino benefits from the absence of competition. The delay tactics he has employed to block sportsbook facilities in Chicago protect his highly profitable casino located just outside the city, adjacent to O’Hare International Airport. This is about money, not concern for taxpayers.

Convenience for fans

Revenue from sportsbook licenses already is earmarked by the state to support cultural, educational, arts and capital projects through Rebuild Illinois, the state’s 2019 capital plan. Approval of sportsbooks also would jump-start hundreds of construction and permanent jobs throughout the region.

Sportsbook locations would not be mini-casinos, as some have suggested. They would not offer slots, table games, roulette wheels or poker tables. They would be similar to sports-themed bars, with which fans are familiar at many stadiums. William Hill Sportsbook at Capital One Arena in D.C., for example, is an airy, multi-story facility with leather furniture, an outdoor patio and retractable windows. It was the first sportsbook in the nation to open at a major sports stadium.

That’s what the state Legislature and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the bill into law, set up for Chicago when they approved sports betting in 2019. Sports betting is already here in Illinois. The last step for Chicago is approval from the City Council.

Fans attending games at Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena would be able to stop at a sports-themed lounge to place a bet if they wish. The locations would draw visitors to stadiums during the off-season and energize communities.

Unfortunately, a misinformation campaign has clouded the truth. We hope alderpersons see through it. They can sign off now on an ordinance allowing five sportsbooks, and they can work toward a successful casino and entertainment center for Chicago.

Jerry Reinsdorf is chairman of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. Tom Ricketts is chairman of the Chicago Cubs. Rocky Wirtz is chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks. Wirtz is an investor in the Sun-Times.

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