Alderman wants to lift ban on sports betting in Chicago

The Cubs’ partnership with DraftKings could put Major League Baseball’s first stadium sportsbook at Wrigley Field. But first, the City Council must lift the ban on sports betting in Chicago. Ald. Walter Burnett, whose ward includes the United Center, wants to do just that.

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The BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, pictured at its March 2020 opening in Des Plaines. Illinoisans have bet $1.4 billion since then.

The BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, opened in March 2020 in Des Plaines. Such operations are banned in Chicago, but the City Council could vote to change that, if an ordinance introduced by Ald. Walter Burnett on Wednesday is approved.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Cubs have forged a $100 million partnership with DraftKings that could pave the way for Wrigley Field to house the first stadium sportsbook in Major League Baseball. But, it can’t happen unless the City Council lifts the ban on sports betting in Chicago.

Now, an influential alderman wants to do just that.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose burgeoning Near West Side ward includes the United Center, introduced an ordinance that would lift Chicago’s home-rule ban on sports betting and establish parameters for the city to issue those licenses and make money from it.

Under the plan, sports betting would be authorized either at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena or in a “permanent building or structure located within a five-block radius” of those stadiums.

Sports wagering would also be authorized inside inter-track wagering facilities and inside a Chicago casino, which has been authorized by the Illinois General Assembly but is years away from being built.

No more than 15 kiosks or wagering windows would be allowed at each location unless bettors can also purchase food and drink.

No one under age 21 would be allowed to place a bet. Sports wagering would be prohibited from midnight to 10 a.m., Monday through Thursday; midnight Friday to 9 a.m. Saturday; and 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The city would issue two types of sports wagering licenses: “primary” and “secondary.” Primary sports licenses would start at $50,000 a year and cost $25,000 for annual renewal. Secondary sports licenses would start at $10,000, with an annual renewal fee of $5,000.

Burnett acknowledged his ordinance is likely to trigger a heated debate over the danger that sanctioning sports wagering might somehow encourage Chicagoans who can least afford it to blow their paychecks.

But Burnett said the cold, hard reality is that sports betting has already been legalized by the state.

“Wrigley and the United Center — they’ve both been talking about setting up a spot for it. So this ordinance needs to be passed in order for that to happen. We’ll see where the Council wants to go with it,” said Burnett, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.

“In my community, it’ll bring more people to the United Center. They may spend more money. It helps with the sales tax and also the amusement that these guys pay. So there is some upside. … There’s more benefits for the state, but there’s some auxiliary benefits for the city.”

What about the downside?

“The only downside would be that folks who do it anyway may get addicted to it,” he said.

“But I can take you to every office in this [City Hall] building. Everybody’s doing squares, pools and all kind of other things in regards to sports [betting]. … And a lot of people are doing sports betting on their telephones,” Burnett said.

“That’s a conversation we can have once we get it introduced. I’m just bringing it to the table so we can all talk about it.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) at first argued that Burnett’s ordinance was filed with the city clerk’s office too late to be introduced at Wednesday’s meeting. When Beale was overruled, he used a parliamentary maneuver to force Burnett’s ordinance to be sent to the Rules Committee, where ordinances normally go to die or be re-referred, slowing the process down.

“Obviously, there were some interesting things afoot today, which I’m sure you all will ferret out. I don’t need to give you any leads on that. But, we’ve got to make sure that everything is above-board and that there’s a level playing field,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday of the legislative shenanigans.

Lightfoot has vowed to impose “tight restrictions” on sports betting to avoid turning Chicago neighborhoods into, as she put it, “the Las Vegas strip.”

Asked Wednesday whether she’s concerned that sports betting would cut into revenues at a Chicago casino, the mayor said, “First of all, sports book is the law of our state. That got passed by the General Assembly in 2019. I support that law. No, I do not believe that it will undercut our efforts on a future casino and we’re gonna make sure that it doesn’t.”

Fans gather in April at Gallagher Way, the plaza next to the west side of Wrigley Field.

Fans gather in April 2019 at Gallagher Way, the plaza along the west side of Wrigley Field. The Cubs and DraftKings have said they may add a sportsbook betting operation and restaurant complex to an existing building or constructing an entirely new facility near Wrigley. But they need the Chicago City Council to make sportsbooks legal in the city.

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A new building or renovation of an existing building would require a change to the planned development under which the Cubs renovated Wrigley and developed the land around it. So would sports betting of any kind, since gambling is outlawed in Chicago.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley, has acknowledged sports betting is a “reality across the country” and, more recently, in Illinois. “In one way, shape or form, it’s coming to major league sports and to all of the stadiums.”

But if the Cubs and DraftKings intend to build a free-standing betting parlor on the Wrigley campus, the alderman has said he will demand “neighborhood protections,” just as he has every other step along the way.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green has said the partners hope to build an addition to the $1 billion Wrigley campus that could be a year-round attraction, Green said.

“DraftKings says this would be their largest sportsbook in the country … with a food and beverage option and betting. In the winter months, you have Super Bowl. You have March Madness. Having a facility where groups may want to come in and watch the Super Bowl or March Madness — that’s something we could accommodate,” Green has said.

“Where? We don’t know yet. That would be discussed with the city. ... We have a tower where our front office is located. There’s also the space that was part of the planned development over near Sheffield and Addison. The DraftKings club used to be over there... Now we don’t have anything over there on that mini-triangle parcel. We could look at options at the office tower or there.”

Legal sports betting was introduced in Illinois as part of a massive gambling bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker two years ago. All 10 of the state’s casinos have launched sportsbooks, as have two racetracks. As it stands, Chicago bettors have to drive to one of those physical locations outside the city to place a wager or register for a mobile betting application.

Large arenas like Wrigley and Soldier Field, with capacities exceeding 17,000, can apply with the Illinois Gaming Board to open books, but none has so far.

Meanwhile, thousands of Chicagoans already place bets on their phones with mobile sports gambling operators — legal or otherwise. Bettors across Illinois have wagered more than $4.6 billion on sports since the first legal bet was placed in March 2020. Black market wagers are still thought to be close to that figure, too.

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