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The Chicago Bears may be on the lookout for places to potentially build a new stadium, but they are staying local when it comes to gaming partners.
The storied NFL franchise announced Tuesday it has reached an exclusive multiyear agreement with Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive that makes BetRivers the team’s official sportsbook partner and Des Plaines-based Rivers Casino its official casino partner. BetRivers was the first to launch both retail and mobile sports betting in Illinois last year, while Rivers is the biggest revenue generator among the 10 casinos in the state.
“As a lifelong Bears fan, I am thrilled to have BetRivers and Rivers Casino partner with our hometown NFL team, the Chicago Bears, as the organization’s only Official Sportsbook and Casino Partner,” said Neil Bluhm, executive chairman & co-Founder of Rush Street Interactive and Rush Street Gaming, in a statement. “We look forward to expanding our relationship with the Bears and their dedicated fan base, and offering innovative products and promotions as we remain committed to delivering a first-rate customer experience. This partnership also reinforces our commitment to hometown teams in states where we have our online and land-based sportsbooks.”
The Bears had previously made PointsBet an official sports betting sponsor last September. Their deal with Rush Street Interactive gives both BetRivers and Rivers Casino “a mix of prominent in-stadium signage, and digital, social and print assets,” and BetRivers will be the title partner of a free-to-play game on the team’s app via Verizon. BetRivers will also get to offer collaborations and promotions involving exclusive Bears prizes and experiences while wagering on the team.
“We are incredibly excited to announce BetRivers and Rivers Casino as our first multi-year exclusive partner in the Sportsbook and Casino categories,” said Bears President & CEO Ted Phillips. “We look forward to connecting with our fans in fun and unique ways through these avenues and couldn’t be prouder to be building this relationship with a hometown company.”
Deal adds fresh layer of intrigue for Bears
— Chicago Bears (@BearsPR) June 22, 2021
Teaming up with Rush Street Interactive on both the sports betting and casino fronts at this point in time adds to the intrigue surrounding the Bears and a talked-about potential move to the suburb of Arlington Heights. Last Thursday, the team confirmed it had made a bid to purchase Arlington International Racecourse, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated.
Churchill Downs Inc. completed the purchase of a 62% stake of Rivers Casino for $407 million in March 2019, part of its move away from the expectation of building a racino at Arlington — an opportunity CDI had long lobbied and finally allowed when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill that expanded gaming in June 2019.
CDI announced in August 2019 it would not pursue a racino license, citing the uncompetitiveness from the high tax rates. Last July, it said it would not pursue a sports betting license at the track, which is located 12 miles from the casino and currently running what looks to be its 94th and final year of horse racing.
The Kentucky-based company announced plans to sell Arlington in February, and while the Bears are among the bidders, the Village of Arlington Heights also passed an ordinance that prohibited “negative use restrictions” in May that maintains the possibility of horse racing to continue at the track.
The Bears’ lease with the city for their current home — Soldier Field — does not expire until 2033. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot took a shot at the Bears’ bid on social media, putting out a statement on Twitter that pointed out the team and the city are currently in negotiations regarding improvements at Soldier Field and calling the bid for Arlington Heights “a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before.”
RSI continues fight for Illinois sports betting dollars
🚨 NEWS 🚨 We are excited to announce a multi-year exclusive partnership with @ChicagoBears!
— BetRivers (@BetRivers) June 22, 2021
With only six mobile sports operators currently in Illinois and in-person registration required for access to mobile wagering, Rush Street Interactive is aligning Rivers Casino and BetRivers to welcome Bears fans as a means of expanding its digital base — which could include iGaming much further down the road.
Located near O’Hare Airport, Rivers Casino is the closest Illinois-based casino to downtown Chicago, though there are three casinos in Northwest Indiana also less than an hour’s drive east of “The Loop.” Rivers has generated nearly $158.2 million in revenue through the first five months of the year, accounting for 37.2% of all casino revenue in the state. Its $58.9 million in table games revenue in 2021 is more than the state’s other nine casinos combined.
For retail sports betting, Rivers is also the dominant player among the seven casinos and nine total venues (11 when counting Hawthorne Race Course’s two off-track retail sportsbooks), with its nearly $88.5 million handle accounting for 56% of all in-person handle. The BetRivers Sportsbook has generated nearly $7.8 million in retail sports betting revenue and is the only Illinois book to clear $1 million in any month.
Illinois has already proven itself a top-five market nationally for sports betting with a robust digital presence — over 96% of the $4.4 billion wagered since the first bets taken in March 2020 has been online — and the state finished behind only New Jersey nationally for handle in April in the most recent report released by the Illinois Gaming Board.
BetRivers will clear $1 billion in handle with May’s revenue report, and its $74.4 million in online sports betting revenue ranks third behind FanDuel ($89.6 mm) and DraftKings ($82.6 mm).
Despite being first to launch for mobile in June 2020, BetRivers was overtaken by both DraftKings and FanDuel as the top online sports betting options in the state. This happened despite RSI’s intense lobbying efforts that resulted in a provision in the gaming expansion bill that prevented an online-only sports wagering license application being accepted by the IGB until 18 months after the first retail license was issued and the price of the online-only license being $20 million, double the cost of a retail one.
Both DraftKings and FanDuel bypassed the waiting period by teaming with gaming venues in the state — DraftKings rebranded Casino Queen in East St. Louis last August and recently announced a $10 million expansion that will include a new sportsbook. FanDuel entered via Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria in September before rebranding Fairmount Park in Collinsville to FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing and opening a retail book in March.
BetRivers reached a peak of nearly $125 million in handle in November, representing 28.8% of the mobile and online handle that month, but its $72.7 million handle for April accounted for 14.1% of the online handle as newcomer Barstool Sportsbook had its first full month of mobile operations and generated nearly $51 million in handle.
Some of the drop in handle and market share can also be attributed to the NFL offseason, showing the league’s prowess as a driver of sports betting handle. That is expected to continue at a higher level in the 2021 season with the NFL’s full embrace of legalized sports wagering.
Specific to the Prairie State, nearly $935 million has been wagered on football — the IGB reports do not break down wagering by pro and college football. That total, which included a monthly high of $255 million in November, is second only to wagering on basketball among sports. It also does not account for parlay wagering, which is immensely popular during the NFL season and accounted for nearly $310 million in wagers from September through December.