The torrent of recent DraftKings wheeling and dealing continued Thursday with the announcement that the daily fantasy sports-turned-national sports betting juggernaut had struck a deal to become the Chicago Cubs’ “first official and exclusive sports betting and daily fantasy partner.” In a press release, the pair announced plans to pursue a “first-of-its-kind sportsbook at the iconic Wrigley Field, with online access available in the surrounding Wrigleyville area.”
DraftKings’ sportsbook operations commenced in Illinois in August when the Casino Queen in East St. Louis rebranded to become the DraftKings at Casino Queen. It first opened a retail sportsbook there and a short time later unveiled the DraftKings Sportsbook mobile app/online platform. The app’s availability statewide was made possible by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reinstatement of an executive order that suspended state law requiring that patrons sign up in person to open an online sports betting account.
The Cubs news comes on the heels of Wednesday’s announcement that Chicago Bulls legend and international sports icon Michael Jordan had joined the Boston-based gaming operator as a special advisor, specifically to provide “strategic and creative input to the board of directors on company strategy, product development, diversity, equity and belonging, marketing activities, and other key initiatives.”
Put another way, he’s Michael Jordan.
But back to Chicago: The most compelling part of this arrangement is now the likelihood of a DraftKings Sportsbook lounge at Wrigley, which opened over a century ago in April 1914. The law permitting online sports wagering in Illinois and at physical locations at casinos and racetracks throughout the state also allows sportsbooks at up to seven professional sports venues. The venues must have at least 17,000 seats and pony up a $10 million licensing fee for an on-site sportsbook.
Early days for IL sports betting
As of Thursday, no sports venue in Illinois had applied for or obtained such a license, according to the Illinois Gaming Board website. The Cubs and DraftKings will also need to obtain approval from the city of Chicago to bring plans to fruition.
“DraftKings has been a great partner for a number of years and we are excited to expand this relationship as sports betting grows rapidly in Illinois,” said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations, in a statement. “An increasing number of sports fans want to integrate sports betting into their game experience, and we’re excited to be one of the first to engage in developing a retail sportsbook at a professional sports venue.”
Legal sports betting in Illinois began in March when the first bets were placed at the Rivers Casino’s BetRivers Sportsbook in Des Plaines. Days later, however, the sportsbook and casino were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to at that casino and DraftKings at Casino Queen, retail sports betting is taking place at four other locations so far: a William Hill Sportsbook at the Grand Victoria and three Penn National-owned properties — the Argosy Casino Alton, Hollywood Casino Aurora and Hollywood Casino Joliet. DraftKings, BetRivers, and FanDuel Sportsbook (via Par-A-Dice Casino East Peoria) are available online, with PointsBet set to join them through a partnership with Hawthorne Race Course.
The first sportsbook to open at a professional sports arena in the U.S. was a William Hill Sportsbook at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., in July. Only the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Illinois permit sportsbooks at such venues, with licensure from the proper local regulatory agency.
The ability of DraftKings and FanDuel to play ball in Illinois was not always crystal clear, as former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2015 declared that DFS constituted illegal gambling, although both DraftKings and FanDuel continued to offer contests in the state. In April of this year, the Illinois Supreme Court put that dispute to bed with a ruling that some DFS contests constituted games of skill, not gambling, thus making them permissible under state law.
Disagreements over that period of operation post-2015 bled into talks around sports betting legalization in the state, when Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming lobbied in an attempt to have DFS operators precluded from operating sportsbooks in the state, at least for a period of time.
Of course, no mention of sports wagering and Chicago is complete without reference to the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919, when eight members of the White Sox of the South Side were accused of taking bribes from gamblers to throw the World Series. Fallout from the scandal led to the hiring of MLB’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to help restore public confidence in the game.
To now have a state-sanctioned sportsbook headed to the Friendly Confines, well, times change, and the contrast will be starker nowhere more than at the eventual DraftKings Sportsbook at Wrigley Field. Unless, maybe, one day if there’s a sportsbook at Guaranteed Rate Field, f/k/a Comiskey Park.