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Chicago teams are betting on a Daley to win City Hall OK for ‘sports book’ wagering at arenas

Cook County Commissioner John Daley’s son is lobbying the Chicago City Council to approve sports betting at or near Sox park, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and the United Center.

If the Chicago City Council approves a plan that lobbyist John R. Daley (bottom left) is pushing, the White Sox could offer betting at or near Guaranteed Rate Field on sporting events even in other sports and on non-game days. John R. Daley’s first cousin Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (right) represents the South Side 11th Ward that’s home to the ballpark. He’s been supportive of the proposal — which would also apply to the city’s other major pro sports teams, sources say.
If the Chicago City Council approves a plan that lobbyist John R. Daley (bottom left) is pushing, the White Sox could offer betting at or near Guaranteed Rate Field on sporting events even in other sports and on non-game days. John R. Daley’s first cousin Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (right) represents the South Side 11th Ward that’s home to the ballpark. He’s been supportive of the proposal — which would also apply to the city’s other major pro sports teams, sources say.
Sun-Times file, provided

The behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to bring sports betting to Chicago’s pro sports arenas has enlisted a clout-heavy name — Daley.

John R. Daley — the son of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — is working as a lobbyist for the White Sox as the team, acting in concert with the Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks and Bulls, pushes for the Chicago City Council to let all of them open sports wagering facilities at or near their stadiums.

John R. Daley’s first cousin Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson represents the family’s political base, the South Side’s 11th Ward that’s home to the Sox ballpark, Guaranteed Rate Field. Sources say another lobbyist, not Daley, has been assigned to lobby the alderman on behalf of the Sox.

Thompson — a grandson and nephew of Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors — has been supportive of the proposal to allow sports betting at stadiums and arenas in discussions with fellow aldermen, lobbyists and others in recent months, sources say.

Under a proposed ordinance introduced by Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), each sports gambling operation would pay City Hall a $50,000 fee plus a $25,000 yearly renewal fee to operate inside each stadium or within a five-block radius.

A proposed ordinance introduced by Ald. Walter Burnett would allow Guarantee Rate Field and other pro sports stadiums in Chicago to each operate a sports gambling operation.
A proposed ordinance introduced by Ald. Walter Burnett would allow Guarantee Rate Field and other pro sports stadiums in Chicago to each operate a sports gambling operation.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Asked why John R. Daley was hired, a White Sox spokesman says: “John is well respected in his field, is smart and experienced. In this particular case, all of the teams, their executives and their lobbyists have been working together jointly toward a common goal of getting this one ordinance passed. The governor wants it. The Legislature supports it, as does the mayor. And we believe the majority of the city council does as well.

“John and Lisa Duarte have been working as lobbyists for the United Center for a number of years at the state level, so it only made sense to add them to the lobbyists working on this ordinance at the Chicago city level, too. We are proud of the relationship we have with John and appreciate what he brings to the table in terms of judgment, trust, attentiveness and results.”

John R. Daley didn’t comment, but sent a letter from his lawyer saying he is “not precluded from registering or acting as a lobbyist on City of Chicago matters because of that family relationship.”

One source describes Thompson as generally supportive of the proposed ordinance — which would allow gamblers to bet on sporting events at or near Sox park, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and the United Center even when they’re not hosting games.

But Thompson, whose relatives have been Sox season ticket-holders for generations, is concerned about the impact, including traffic, on residential areas in Bridgeport, the source says.

Thompson didn’t respond to interview requests.

He has abstained from voting on matters that involved his uncle, the former mayor, who is now an attorney with a law firm, and the alderman’s cousin William Daley, who works for Goldman Sachs. Both firms have been involved in financial deals with City Hall.

Thompson, a lawyer in his second term on the council, is one of three aldermen under federal indictment in separate criminal cases.

He and his lawyers are preparing for his trial next month in federal court on charges that accuse him of filing false income-tax returns and lying to federal investigators about $219,000 in loans he got from a clout-heavy bank in his neighborhood, Washington Federal Bank for Savings.

Federal regulators closed the bank nearly four years ago after uncovering a massive fraud scheme that siphoned tens of millions of dollars of deposits out of the neighborhood bank. The bank’s failure cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. about $90 million.

According to the federal indictment he faces, Thompson hadn’t made any payments on his loans but still listed the interest on the payments investigators say he never paid the bank as deductions on his federal income-tax returns.

Beside the White Sox, John R. Daley is also lobbying city officials on behalf of the United Center, jointly owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, the chairman of the Bulls and the Sox, and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz. Wirtz is an investor in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mara Georges.
Mara Georges’ law firm is also lobbying on behalf of the proposal to allow sports book wagering at Chicago’s pro sports stadiums and arenas. Georges was City Hall’s top lawyer during Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.
Sun-Times file

Also among the power brokers involved in the effort: the Daley family’s longtime law firm, Daley & Georges, which recently was renamed Georges & Synowiecki. The firm’s managing partner is Mara Georges, who was City Hall’s top lawyer during much of the second Mayor Daley’s tenure and then joined the law firm then headed by the former mayor’s brother Michael Daley.

Georges’ law partner is Michael Synowiecki, a former staff member for Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th). The alderman is awaiting trial on federal charges that accuse him of trying to strong-arm a Burger King franchise-holder into hiring his law firm to handle property tax appeals. Synowiecki’s wife is a niece of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, the alderman’s wife.

Another partner in Georges’ firm who is working as lobbyist on sports wagering is Amy Degnan, whose family has been close to the Daleys.

Also on the United Center lobbying team is Kenneth Sawyer, a cousin of Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th).

The United Center lobbyists have filed disclosure reports with City Hall showing they have been paid $25,500 this year, including $15,000 to John R. Daley. The Wirtz Corp. lobbyists reported payments totaling $16,500, including $15,000 to Daley. The White Sox lobbyists have been paid $10,500 this year, but Daley hasn’t reported getting any payments for the Sox work since he was hired April 1.

The Cubs have nine lobbyists, most of them team employees, including Tom Ricketts, the team chairman. The Bears’ lone lobbyist, attorney Roger Bickel, hasn’t reported any payments.

The sports book ordinance is expected to come before the Chicago City Council for a vote within a month or two.

The teams’ owners see the wagering facilities as a way to bring in more revenue.

They’d allow betting on other sports, too, and operate year-round.

The Cubs have said they want to place a sports book operation next to Wrigley at Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue. United Center has space at the stadium that would be renovated to become home to a betting facility, according to Georges.

The Illinois Legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing pro sports stadiums to host sports books, which would need the city council’s approval to operate in Chicago and also a state license from the Illinois Gaming Board. The state license would cost $10 million, with a $5 million annual renewal fee.

There’s also been talk for years of bringing a casino to Chicago. Some in the casino industry fear the sports books could draw away potential customers.