Legal sports betting continues to get implemented in higher volume around the United States. One of the first places to join the fray was Illinois, which moved to green light wagering all the way back in 2019. But as of mid-2021, the legalization of sports betting across the larger state has not yet applied to Chicago. Could that soon change? Let's find out.
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Anyone who remains confused about how Illinois has allowed the sports betting situation to play out in Chicago isn't alone. The entire saga is truly baffling. Maybe it'd be different if Illinois was somehow an exception to the sports betting rule and many other local governments were against legal sports betting. But that's not the case. Much of the United States has legalized—or made strides to legalize—some form of gambling.
The entire setup really isn't fair to residents of Chicago. On the bright side, as of late June 2021, Chicago is moving to lift restrictions on sports betting.
Will Chicago Legalize Sports Betting?
To be clear: It doesn't seem like any concrete change is imminent. Chicago residents will still have to get their sports-betting fix by traveling elsewhere throughout the state or using one of the top online sportsbooks.
But for the first time since the global pandemic put all major changes on hold, it does seem like the city's stance is softening.
Chicago's Current Stance On Sports Betting
When Illinois legalized sports betting in 2019, they did so with a huge gaming package signed by governor J.B. Pritzker. Chicago was not exempt from that bill. On the contrary, the package called for five regional casinos in the area as well as a resort somewhere downtown.
However, Chicago's local branch of government needed to pass additional authorization for the bill to take effect. In essence, the city council must sign an ordinance allowing for specific (or all) types of sports gambling.
Illinois' larger gaming package was first met with resistance by Chicago's city council because of all the various steps involved. It seemed like they wanted to wait for the state to successfully set up larger operations—i.e. licensed sportsbooks and casinos—before joining the sports-betting party.
By the end of 2019, though, the COVID-19 pandemic started to take center stage. Jump to early 2020, and most of the economy was shut down across the United States, which set back Chicago's timeline even further.
Chicago Finally Acts On Sports Betting Ordinance
Now that the economy has been open for a while, the city council is getting back to matters they deem less urgent. That includes the legalization of sports betting.
City council members Alderman Walter Burnett and Brian Hopkins recently proposed a measure that would end Chicago's sports betting ban. It is now on the rest of the city council to pass it.
In certain other places, this next step has been considered a formality. Chicago is a different story. The city council still appears split on the decision, and it's clear the governing body at large isn't in any rush to legalize sports betting. The measure proposed by Burnett and Hopkins has been tabled for further discussion until late September.
Is Chicago Missing A Golden Opportunity?
It cannot be overstated how bizarre Chicago's stance on sports betting remains. The state has already legalized it. This degree of equivocation at the city level is pretty much unprecedented.
Heck, it's not even solely about Illinois legalizing sports wagering at the state level. Chicago is one of the sports meccas of the country, home to the Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (MLB) and Chicago Bears (NFL). If any local branch of government in the state should be for the legalization of in-person sports betting, it's this one. They stand to earn so much revenue.
Indeed, legalized sports gambling has been slower than normal to get off the ground in the rest of Illinois. The taxes for sportsbooks operating in the region are considered too high. But it is gradually growing, and once more, the rest of the state, unlike Chi-town, isn't home to five—five!—major sports teams.
There's also the economic ramifications of the global pandemic to consider. Every state has been hit hard by the protracted shutdown. Even with people getting back to normal everyday life, states aren't yet seeing the same kind of revenue as before. Folks aren't as invested in going and spending money, and certain industries crucial to the city's bottom line (such as commercial real estate) haven't yet picked back up.
Legal sports betting is a way to preserve Chicago's financial integrity. Many experts predict the revenue generated from taxes will immediately be in the nine-figure range, with the potential to reach billion-dollar profits on an annual basis.
When Will Chicago Legalize Sports Betting?
The glass-half-full take on all of this is that Chicago cannot operate so far outside the state's norm until the end of time. Legal sports betting will hit the city eventually.
As for when, though, it's tough to tell.
With the city council expected to delay further talks until at least the end of September, any timeline prior to 2022 feels ambitious. But 2022 isn't all that far away, and because legalized sports betting has been set up across the state for nearly three years, it won't take that much time to implement across Chicago.
Sure, on-site sportsbooks can take some time to open. But you better believe all of Chicago's pro teams already have plans in place to get it done swiftly.
All that matters for now is Chicago seems prepared to address the sports-betting situation. And based on that alone, if we had to guess, we'd expect sports betting in The Windy City to be fully legal and operational by the middle of 2022.
Check out this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use when you're unable to place bets in person: