May 25, 2019DraftKings/FanDuel Anti-Bluhm, Pro-Betting Ad Pulled by Illinois Governor
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker quashed FanDuel/DraftKings’ ad campaign against Neil Bluhm as lawmakers race to pass sports betting legislation before session’s end
The Governor of Illinois has asked FanDuel and DraftKings to take a TV spot attacking local businessman Neil Bluhm off the airwaves just a day after it was rolled out. The spot was part of a $1 million ad campaign against a recently introduced legislation that aims to shut out the two daily fantasy sports turned sports betting operators from Illinois in case sports betting becomes legal in the state.
Despite being archrivals in the daily fantasy sports field and major rivals in the recently liberalized US sports betting field, FanDuel and DraftKings joined forces to lobby for the legalization of sports gambling in Illinois and against the above-mentioned legislative provision that aims to keep them away from the state for a period of three years.
The sports betting debate has gained quite some momentum in Illinois in recent weeks and lawmakers are racing against time to pass a relevant legislation authorizing the provision of in-person and digital sports betting services before the start of the Legislature’s summer recess next week.
The legalization of sports betting in the state is a matter staunchly supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker who included $200 million from wagering license fees in his spending plan for the budget year starting July 1, 2019.
DraftKings and FanDuel’s War Against Neil Bluhm
Earlier this year, Illinois lawmakers introduced a language that, if passed, would prevent DraftKings and FanDuel from immediately obtaining betting licenses in the state, should sports gambling become legal. Under the measure, the two companies will have to serve a three-year blackout period before being able to apply for authorization to provide their products on the territory of Illinois.
An advisory opinion by then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued in 2015 that daily fantasy sports were a form of illegal gambling under Illinois law was the rationale for the introduction of the bad actor provision earlier in May. DraftKings and FanDuel kept on offering their products to state residents after the opinion was issued, which has angered many legislators.
The language received vocal support from Mr. Bluhm, a real estate developer and the former owner of Rivers Casino Des Plaines. The gambling venue is located in the greater Chicago area, just two miles from O’Hare International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest airports. Churchill Downs Incorporated recently completed the acquisition of a majority stake in the property, but Mr. Bluhm kept an interest in it.
Following the introduction of the legislation earlier this year, FanDuel and DraftKings unveiled what was planned to be a $1 million ad campaign targeting Mr. Bluhm, even though he was not named in the first spot that was rolled out on Thursday.
The spot first went up on Chicago broadcast TV and was also planned to be rolled out statewide on various cable channels. The whole campaign involved five days of ads attacking Mr. Bluhm for supporting the restrictive legislation. FanDuel and DraftKings also planned to deploy social media, YouTube and streaming providers Hulu and Roku as well as radio providers Pandora and Spotify.
The 30-second spot, now brought down, accused Mr. Bluhm and his casino of trying to use the businessman’s “political muscle to box out the competition so they can profit.” If the proposed legislation gets approved in the state Legislature, it will earn Rivers Casino and Mr. Bluhm’s digital business – Rush Street Interactive – a major head start on DraftKings and FanDuel.
Gov. Pritzker Not Too Happy about the New Ad Campaign
It seems that the state’s top official was not enthusiastic about the campaign against the two gambling operators. His discontent went so far as to prompt the Governor to order DraftKings and FanDuel to take down the ad.
A spokesperson for the two operators in the state said in a statement issued on Friday that “at the governor’s request, the ad is being suspended for the time being while we engage in productive discussions to deliver smart sports betting legislation” before the end of the session.
River Casino Attorney Paul Gaynor said in a statement that while they support the legalization of sports betting, what they do not support “are companies that brazenly operate outside the riles, which is why a regulatory waiting period would ensure the integrity of sports betting” and that FanDuel and DraftKings are ready to fully comply with the same “strict regulations already being followed by existing gaming operators.”
According to state records, Mr. Bluhm, whose personal wealth amounts to $4 billion (Forbes: May 2019), has contributed millions of dollars to members of both the Democratic and the Republican parties. That has raised questions whether the recently introduced bad actor language was aimed to serve as a punitive measure against FanDuel and DraftKings for keeping to operate in the state, despite the 2015 Attorney General opinion, or as a tool to keep the betting field clear of competition while Mr. Bluhm’s business cements itself in the state.
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