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 openly acknowledged his ordinance is likely to trigger a heated debate over the pros and cons of sports betting and 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.”
Construction of a new building or renovation of an existing building would require a change to the planned development that paved the way for the Cubs to renovate Wrigley and develop 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 and that, “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.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she will also insist on “tight restrictions” on sports betting.
“We’re not gonna turn our neighborhoods into the Las Vegas strip,” the mayor has said.
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 unto itself, 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. We have always had a goal to continue to develop Gallagher Way and have year-round activity around the ballpark,” 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.