After furious behind-the-scenes lobbying and a clash of the Titans in public, a joint city council committee agreed on Monday to lift Chicago’s ban on sports betting to allow sports betting in and around five stadiums.
City council’s zoning and licensing committee advanced the blocked sports betting ordinance to city council after adding a no-bite clause aimed at appeasing the black caucus.
The language articulates the city’s promise to “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic and geographic diversity when issuing primary sports licenses” and “encourage” minority and female-owned businesses to apply.
With these changes, the joint committee approved the mayor’s ordinance by a 19-7 vote.
Ahead of the final vote, Cubs president Tom Ricketts said his team were “ready to go today” as part of their $ 100 million partnership with DraftKings, which will pave the way for Wrigley Field to house Major League Baseball’s premier stadium sports betting site.
“With your approval of this ordinance, construction would begin immediately with the goal of opening a restaurant with sports betting in time for the 2023 season. This will create construction jobs and income now and permanent jobs in a bit more. a year, ”Ricketts said.
Ricketts said the ordinance “would provide additional resources to the city’s professional sports teams that will help them compete.”
“It’s not a casino or even a mini-casino. It is a sports bar-restaurant. … This only allows fans who wish to place a bet to have a window to do so. I expect a lot of fans to come to the bookmaker and never place a bet, ”he said.
White Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf essentially accused casino mogul Neil Bluhm, owner of Des Plaines-based Rivers Casino, of speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
“What is puzzling is that Neil Bluhm, who does not want our buildings to have sports betting, has met with us on several occasions in an attempt to operate sports betting in our buildings. And that was well after the casino’s approval for Chicago, ”Reinsdorf said.
“At that time, he had no assurance that he would be chosen to operate a casino in Chicago and was not concerned that these books would in any way cannibalize whoever would be chosen to operate the casino. It makes me wonder if he was back then, would we have this meeting today? “
Bluhm made no mention of this previous meeting.
He simply reiterated his long-held claim that what he calls the “five mini-casinos” – at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, United Center and Wintrust Arena – “take away visitors and money. At a Chicago casino.
“The city could lose $ 10-12 million a year and potentially make Chicago’s new casino less successful if we’re right,” Bluhm said.
“Why take such a chance? There is a big risk without a reward. I urge you to vote no for this ordinance.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has all but admitted that the minority reserve clause has no teeth. But she argued that the city is prevented from going any further.
“State law doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility,” she said.
Nonetheless, Lightfoot called the sports mogul’s “commitment” “historic, given where they generally are,” adding: “We will continue to work with them and push them to make sure they keep their goals. promises “.
The mayor’s promise was enough to satisfy some members of the joint committee, but not all.
The study conducted for the city by Union Gaming Analytics also did not conclude that, at worst, sports betting in and around five stadiums would cost a casino in Chicago and around $ 4.3 million no more than $ 4.3 million. the city $ 843,000 in gambling taxes.
“Don’t vote for the banana in the exhaust. This ordinance has not changed. We held it back last week because there was nothing in it [for minorities]. And there is still nothing in it. So go there no more for the Okie Dokie, ”said Far South Side Ald. Antoine Beale (9e), one of the most vocal critics of the Lightfoot City Council.
Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3e) agreed, saying the revised ordinance includes “no benefits that I can see for minority ownership or participation or community benefits.”
She remains concerned about the potential impact on casino revenues and a 2% tourist tax on sports betting that she says would bring “peanuts” back to Chicago.
President of the ethics committee Michele Smith (43e) noted that the income from a Chicago casino will be used to bolster police and fire pension funds that are dangerously close to insolvency.
“That means, if something cannibalizes it, people are going to demand more from property taxpayers,” Smith said.
“So I’m very hesitant to approve of this – certainly at this time. Maybe if it got any closer to opening the casino, that would be OK. But I am very, very concerned about protecting our property taxpayers.