Chicago Considers Sportsbetting as Casinos Make 2022 Bids

To draw more interest from potential firms, the administration of Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot extended the deadline for license applications by nine weeks at the beginning of August. Now, a  board meeting with the Illinois Gaming Board is in the works to determine the outcome of those bids and iron out the details with applicants.

At the same time, Alderman Walter Burnett wants to introduce an ordinance that would lift the ban on sports betting in Chicago. While Illinois legalized sports betting for both USA mobile casinos and land-based operators in the state two years ago, a long-standing prohibition on sports wagers in the Chi has prevented major venues from getting in on the industry.

Finding the Right One

With plans to develop a resort-style casino destination in downtown Chicago, Lightfoot has been searching for the right operator for the project for some time. On her decision to push out the deadline, she said, “Extending the deadline for interested bidders will allow the city to collect as many robust, impactful and transformative proposals as possible. I look forward to seeing these bids roll in and working very closely with whichever team is ultimately chosen to develop Chicago’s first-ever casino.”

Applicants and Bidders

Rush Street Gaming, operators of the Rivers Casino Des Plaines with majority owners Churchill Downs Incorporated, have made an official bid according to the Chicago Tribune. Meredith Wolf-Bluhm, a stakeholder in Rivers and daughter of Rush Street’s co-founder, has donated over $200k to Mayor Lightfoot’s campaign in the past, which may raise ethical questions if Rush Street Gaming happens to win their bid.

Local rivals of RSG, Related Midwest, have also applied. MGM Resorts International revealed that it would not be putting in an application despite participating in a preliminary intelligence-gathering exercise.

The Needs of Chicagoans

Some critics of the mayor view the casino-resort development as just another reason to harshly criticize Lightfoot’s time in office, citing her early campaign promises to revitalize vulnerable neighborhoods in the city. Plans for the casino have yet to solidify, but Lightfoot describes the project as “a premier entertainment destination that will catalyze growth in our dynamic economy, create sustainable, good-paying jobs for our workforce and bring new financial opportunities to our businesses,” in a statement.

Meanwhile, city estimates say revenue from the casino could total up to $200 million annually, a windfall that is expected to go towards fire and police pension funds. On top of that, the firm that wins the bid for building rights must dedicate at least 26% of the construction contracts for companies owned by Black and Latino Chicagoans and 6% for firms owned by local women.

Opening the City to Sports Betting

As it stands, gamblers in Chicago would have to take their sports wagers to an online casino that pays within the state or to a land-based casino outside of the city. With the proposal from Burnett, local venues could begin offering sports betting services to anyone over the age of 21 if they met a series of qualifications, paid inaugural licensing fees, and followed a set of established restrictions.

At Wrigley Field–home of the Chicago Cubs who just finalized a $100 million partnership with sports betting leaders DraftKings Incorporated–this could be a great opportunity for a permanent sports betting venue. Alderman Burnett said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Wrigley Field and the United Center have both been talking about setting up a spot for it so this ordinance needs to be passed in order for that to happen. In my community, it’ll bring more people to the United Center and they may spend more money. It helps with the sales tax and also the amusement that these guys pay so there is some upside.”


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