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Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon calls for minority ownership in sports betting locations near Chicago stadiums

Hendon wants legislation at the state and city levels to ensure minority and women ownership of sports betting locations.

Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon speaks during a press conference outside City Hall in the Loop, Thursday morning.
Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon wants to ensure minority and women ownership among sports betting operators.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Former state Sen. Rickey Hendon on Thursday called for legislation that would create space for minority ownership of sports gambling locations in Chicago.

“A lot of Black and Latino people bet on sports as well, so why not give us an opportunity to participate,” Hendon said while acknowledging significant hurdles to the effort.

In 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a gambling law creating a Chicago casino, legalizing sports betting and allowing large stadiums like the United Center and Guaranteed Rate Field to open sportsbooks.

Under the law — and with a $10 million state license fee — teams can open their own betting windows within a five-block radius of their stadium. The Cubs announced plans to open a sportsbook last year, and all the city’s other major teams have shown interest.

But all gambling is outlawed under city ordinance. That’s why Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the United Center, introduced a proposal this summer paving the way for stadium wagers.

The ordinance stalled in a City Council committee meeting earlier this week as even allies of Mayor Lori Lightfoot — who backs the proposal — criticized the size of the city’s would-be cut of 2% as too small, especially without any commitments to minority participation.

The state taxes sports betting revenue at 15%, plus another 2% for books in Cook County.

Hendon called for the passage of legislation in Springfield that would tweak the current law to ensure minority- and women-owned sports betting locations that would be located no further than five blocks outside the current five block exclusionary zone around stadiums.

Hendon said he didn’t think Black alderpersons would support an ordinance green-lighting sports betting in Chicago without a change creating a minority carve out in the state’s bill.

“Only if we get a change in Springfield will we ever get sports betting in Chicago. Without it, I don’t think the Black aldermen, who I’m very proud of, will vote for it,” Hendon said.

Hendon said the rules shouldn’t prop up billionaire sports team owners without assurances that minorities and women would be included.

“They can keep their five-block exclusionary area for them, but between five and 10 blocks from the stadium, allow minorities and women to have the opportunity to have a sports betting facility without being affiliated with the stadiums and the current sports owners,” Hendon said.

He said he knows former pro athletes who are Black who’d like to be owners of sportsbooks but declined to name them.

Hendon, who’s also been vocal about ensuring minority participation in the state’s cannabis industry, spoke outside City Hall Thursday flanked by a group of seven supporters.

Billionaire casino mogul Neil Bluhm — whose Des Plaines Rivers Casino has one of the most lucrative existing sportsbooks in the state — has led the public campaign against allowing sportsbooks in Chicago, arguing the stadiums would draw bettors away from any future casino in the city.

Bluhm is behind two of the five proposals vying to run a casino in Chicago. Revenue from it will be earmarked for Chicago’s police and firefighter pension funds.

Lightfoot, who initially opposed stadium betting when the state law passed but is now pushing it, says there’s little evidence suggesting stadium betting lounges would cannibalize casino revenue.

Nearly all bets are placed online through mobile betting apps, not in person at sportsbooks. Bettors have plunked down more than $7 billion on sports contests since the industry launched in March 2020, according to Illinois Gaming Board figures, with about 96% of those bets placed online.

The sportsbook at Bluhm’s suburban casino has netted $123.4 million since the industry launched, with revenue from the physical Rivers betting windows accounting for less than 10% of his business.