Moguls are the hands-down winners of the council’s sportsbooks bonanza. Credit: Brian P Gielczyk / Shutterstock

With 2021 coming to an end, it’s clear that this has been the year of the mogul.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: every year is the year of the mogul around here. 

Good point. Certainly, last year was. In 2020, Ken Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire who is the richest man in the state, funded commercials that convinced a majority of voters to vote against their interests and for his interests.

That was the referendum on the Fair Tax, which would have raised taxes on the richest of the rich, like Griffin, to help pay for services for the rest of us. That is, had so many of the rest of us not been brainwashed by Griffin’s commercials. Not sure I’ll ever completely get over that.

I’ve got moguls on my mind since the City Council hearing where four of them showed up to plead for the opportunity to make even more money than they already have.

Specifically, it was three moguls against one vying for council support for opposing propositions.

On one side was a power-packed squad featuring Jerry Reinsdorf, Rocky Wirtz, and Tom “Boo” Ricketts, who, respectively, are the owners of the White Sox and Bulls, the Blackhawks, and the Cubs.

For the record, Tom Ricketts’s middle name is not Boo. It’s just that I can’t help but boo when I hear the Ricketts name, on account of their deep and abiding love for Donald Trump. 

I know I’m not alone, as this is a city that voted overwhelmingly against Trump. It’s like the Ricketts are going out of their way to torment us.

On the other side was Neil Bluhm, who has made a fortune running various gambling establishments—including a casino in Des Plaines. 

Here was the issue they brought to the City Council . . .

Reinsdorf, Wirtz, and Ricketts want the right to operate sportsbooks at the United Center, Sox park, and Wrigley Field.

Bluhm doesn want them to.

Why? His stated reason is that he thinks competing sportsbooks would take away millions of dollars that Chicago could make from the casino that one of these days it will get around to building.

And he says he cares so much about the people of Chicago getting every nickel they can from the casino.

Reinsdorf wasn’t buying it. “What is perplexing is that Neil Bluhm, who does not want our buildings to have sportsbooks, met with us on several occasions seeking to operate sportsbooks in our buildings. And that was long after the casino was approved for Chicago.”

In other words, Bluhm doesn’t really care about diverting millions from Chicago’s casino so long as the diversion is going to businesses he owns. At least, that’s according to Reinsdorf.

Bluhm did not respond to Reinsdorf’s comments. 

In the aftermath, I had a decision to make—which mogul’s side was I on? Tough decision.

You’d think I’d go with Reinsdorf. As he owns the Bulls, my favorite team in the sports world.

But I already subsidize his operation by continually purchasing Bulls hats. I buy so many Bulls hats that the salespeople at Lids have taken to calling me Imelda. Apparently, I am to Bulls hats what Imelda Marcos was to shoes—a compulsive hoarder.

So I’m actually leaning toward Bluhm, who makes a fairly legitimate point, even if it is self-serving.

The Chicago casino was intended to fortify police and fire pensions, both of which are treacherously underfunded at the moment. 

So the mayor and aldermen haven’t even figured out where Chicago’s casino will go—much less built it—and they’ve already obligated the money they’ll raise there.

I’m second to none in my support for retired police and firefighters.

And the most logical solution to fortify those pensions is to raise taxes on the richest moguls in the state.

But, as I already mentioned, the voters of Illinois, largely brainwashed by commercials funded by Ken Griffin, voted down the Fair Tax.

So we’re going to take care of retired cops and firefighters by squeezing the suckers who think they can beat casinos, even though the systems are set up to make sure they lose.

Bluhm argues that if you let gamblers bet at the United Center or Wrigley or Sox park, there will be fewer suckers to squeeze at the casino.

It sounds like a compelling argument—even if it’s not been supported with objective studies. And I give him credit for pointing out that there are collateral consequences to the development deals our city makes.

That is—if you spend money in one place, you run the risk of undercutting an operation down the street. So you may wind up with fewer tax dollars overall.

The most obvious example of this is on the north side, where the city decided to underwrite the Lincoln Yards development with a $1.3 billion TIF handout.

Essentially, the handout may make it easier for Sterling Bay to lower their rents and attract tenants. Meanwhile, competing property owners throughout the area struggle to find tenants. And if you don’t believe me that it’s a struggle, I urge you to take a drive along Clybourn Avenue sometime and see all the vacant storefronts.

The mayor and the aldermen never tell you that there’s a downside to doling out TIF goodies. It’s as though they believe in TIF magic. Hey, maybe we should put Bluhm in charge of the TIF program. Well, it’s a thought.

Back to the moguls. Eventually the City Council, at Mayor Lightfoot’s urging, tried to satisfy both sides.

They voted to allow Reinsdorf, Wirtz, and Ricketts to operate their sportsbooks (they will also allow sportsbooks at Soldier Field and Wintrust Arena). 

But they slapped a two percent tax on betting at the sportsbooks. That will raise roughly $400,000 to $500,000 a year—which won’t do much to help retired cops and firefighters. But it may make Bluhm feel that the city cares about his feelings.

There you go, Chicago. You’re now free to throw away your money at sportsbooks. Lucky you.

Happy New Year, everybody! May 2022 be the year where your mayor and aldermen treat you like a mogul.