City Council Green Lights Sports Betting at Chicago’s Pro-Sports Arenas

 A rendering of the proposed two-story sports betting lounge at Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue next to Wrigley Field. (Provided) A rendering of the proposed two-story sports betting lounge at Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue next to Wrigley Field. (Provided)

Chicago sports fans will be able to soon test their luck while picking up a hot dog and beer on their way back to their seats at five of Chicago’s pro-sports stadiums and arenas.

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The vote by the Chicago City Council on Wednesday came without debate, despite concerns that allowing stadium-based sports betting could kneecap long-delayed efforts to build a casino in Chicago. Eight alderpeople voted against the proposal.

The measure imposes a 2% tax on gross revenues from sports betting in Chicago. Those revenues are already subject to a 15% state tax and a 2% Cook County tax.

A full-court press from the owners of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks helped the measure backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot hit the jackpot despite the opposition of Chicago billionaire and Rivers Casino Des Plaines operator Neil Bluhm, whose Rush Street Gaming submitted two separate bids to build a casino-resort in Chicago.

Bluhm said allowing sportsbook betting at Chicago stadiums and arenas could cost a future Chicago casino between $10 million and $12 million per year.

Allowing Chicago’s pro-sports teams to set up sports betting lounges would add between $400,000 to $500,000 to Chicago’s coffers annually, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said.

A study commissioned by the city by Union Gaming’s Grant Govertsen found sports betting lounges would have “no discernible impact on traditional revenues at a Chicago casino.”

Wrigley Field, United Center, Wintrust Arena, Soldier Field and Guaranteed Rate Field could each offer up to 15 kiosks, under the new law.

The casino is expected to ring up $200 million in revenue for the city annually. Those funds are earmarked for Chicago’s underfunded police and fire pension funds.

In addition to the 2% tax on gross revenues, Chicago would charge venues an initial $50,000 license fee for a sports betting lounge, as well as $25,000 per year to renew that license. Independent firms could apply for licenses to operate sportsbooks at the venues for $10,000, renewable with an annual fee of $5,000, according to the proposal.

A permanent casino could open as soon as 2025 in Chicago, although slot machines could start ringing at O’Hare and Midway airports much sooner — with tentative plans for a temporary casino also in play.

Bluhm has proposed building a casino and resort in what is now McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center — once known as the convention center’s east building — or south of the Loop on vacant land along the Chicago River set to be redeveloped by Related Midwest as The 78.

With his close ties to Chicago’s political and economic leaders, Bluhm has long been perceived as the front-runner in the high-stakes craps game that will determine the future of Chicago’s casino.

Bally’s envisions building a $1.6 billion complex at either the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center, at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, or the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard on the south side of the convention center, according to a statement from the firm.

A representative of Bally’s said the firm had no objection to sports betting operations at Chicago sports stadiums.

Hard Rock International proposed building the casino and resort as part of the One Central project, which would build a mixed-use development over the Metra tracks south of Soldier Field.

Chicago officials have declined to allow bars and taverns to offer video poker for years, with many officials saying they did not want those machines to drain revenue from a future casino.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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