A Retail Sportsbook At Wintrust Arena Just Moved A Lot Closer To Reality

Written By Derek Helling on December 16, 2021 - Last Updated on December 20, 2021

Earlier this week, there were legal impediments to a brick-and-mortar Wintrust Arena sportsbook at both the city and state levels. That’s no longer the case. Now, it seems only a matter of time because of the action of Illinois governor JB Pritzker.

With his signature, Pritzker opened the door to a sportsbook at the home of both the Chicago Sky and DePaul Blue Demons basketball. In hindsight, though, it might look like the City of Chicago getting out of the way was the bigger win.

New ordinance cracks door for Wintrust Arena sportsbook

Until Wednesday, a city ordinance blocked the operation of retail sportsbooks in Chicago. That is no longer the case. In a meeting of the full City Council on Dec. 15, the aldermen and women present approved a new ordinance without debate.

That doesn’t mean the new ordinance came into place with no struggle, however. There was a lot of lobbying against a change in Chicago’s code on this matter.

For example, Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm pushed against it all the way through a committee meeting just two days before the council vote. Bluhm’s company operates the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, IL, and has submitted two bids for a casino in Chicago proper.

Bluhm and others argued that retail sportsbooks in Chicago would take money away from a Chicago casino. Other objections involved what was perceived as a lack of real inclusion of opportunities for minority-owned, small, and women-owned businesses to take part.

Regardless of the objections, the new ordinance became law in Chicago. That didn’t mean that the respective parties at Wintrust could start to make plans just yet, though. There was business in Springfield to resolve as well.

HB3136 clears the way on the state level

IL law allowed venues like Wintrust to house sportsbooks. However, that’s as long as they have a seating capacity of at least 17,000. Wintrust doesn’t fit that bill at 10,700 at best.

However, a legislative fix now exists for that problem. Late in October, the IL legislature approved HB3136. That bill essentially gave Wintrust an exemption to the capacity requirement.

On Dec. 20, Pritzker signed the bill into law. That means the final legal roadblock to a sportsbook at Wintrust is finally out of the way. It also means the serious efforts to make it a reality will just have begun.

The necessary legwork once everything’s legal

While the WNBA’s Chicago Sky are the anchor tenant of the arena, the franchise neither owns nor operates the venue. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, a city agency, handles that.

The Authority could apply for licensure then contract with the Sky to handle the sportsbook on its behalf. In fact, that seems the likely course of action, given that Sky principal owner Michael Alter has been so active in lobbying for these legal changes.

The Sky would be just the latest WNBA franchise with a tangible connection to sports betting. Other examples include:

  • The Connecticut Sun are owned by the Mohegan Tribe, which also operates sports betting in Connecticut with FanDuel Sportsbook
  • The Phoenix Mercury hold an Arizona sports betting license and plan to operate a retail sportsbook in conjunction with Bally Bet near the Footprint Center

Upon successful execution of that contract and the license, the Sky could then start working on details like:

  • Hours for the sportsbook
  • How many kiosks and/or windows the sportsbook will contain
  • If the sportsbook will offer action on DePaul basketball
  • The location inside the arena for the sportsbook
  • Whether the book will offer amenities like beverage and foodservice
  • Whether the book will be open year-round

Perhaps the most important early consideration that actually could be tentatively discussed already is an operational partner for the sportsbook. The Chicago Cubs have such a partnership with DraftKings for a retail sportsbook in Wrigleyville.

The Sky could opt to build out their own platform, but that seems unlikely. It would offer a way into Illinois’ sports betting market, albeit in a limited fashion, for an operator that is currently on the outside looking in like Bally Bet or BetMGM Sportsbook.

There is still a lot of regulatory work to be done but it’s now legally possible. For that reason, Sky fans should consider a Wintrust Arena sportsbook inevitable.

Photo by Paul Beaty/Associated Press
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA and the managing editor of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of the gambling industry with business, the law, and technology.

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