FanDuel became the third mobile sports betting operator to go live in Illinois, launching Friday to join BetRivers and DraftKings.
FanDuel’s partner in Illinois, Par-A-Dice Casino, submitted “go-live” paperwork to the Illinois Gaming Board on Aug. 19 for online wagering only, though the Peoria-based casino had been granted a sports betting license in June. Because of the co-branding rules in the state, it is known as the “FanDuel Par-A-Dice Sportsbook” app.
“We have been waiting for this day for quite some time,” said Mike Raffensperger, CMO of FanDuel Group, in a statement. “Sports are back, so we are going to show sports fans in Illinois an innovative sports betting app experience with industry leading promotions and consumer protections that have made FanDuel the #1 sportsbook in the U.S.”
Time became of the essence to launch when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker unexpectedly re-issued Executive Order 2020-41, which allowed for the suspension of the in-person registration provision of the bill he signed into law in June 2019 that legalized sports betting. That Executive Order – one Pritzker originally signed June 4 and renewed later that month and let lapse July 24 — is in place until at least Sept. 19.
BetRivers, which operates through Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, was the first to launch online in Illinois in mid-June, while DraftKings followed Aug. 5 with a simultaneous retail and mobile opening at Casino Queen in East St. Louis after rebranding the casino in July.
A fast pivot by FanDuel to enter Illinois
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The online launch completes a remarkably quick pivot for FanDuel, which had originally planned to enter the state through the Fairmount Park horse racing track. The online sportsbook had been in negotiations to purchase the track as far back as March, even submitting a name change of the “FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing” to the Illinois Secretary of State in January. Fairmount Park, though, has yet to complete its application process for a sports wagering license with the state’s gaming board.
That also provided an impetus for FanDuel to pivot to Par-A-Dice Casino — which it did through its partnership with Boyd Gaming — to accelerate its entry into Illinois, though it is expected FanDuel will have a presence at both Par-A-Dice and Fairmount Park. Its rebrand to “FanDuel Par-A-Dice Sportsbook” is similar in fashion to what DraftKings did with Casino Queen — now known as “DraftKings at Casino Queen.” Both online titans were able to make that rebrand after the IGB released a rule proposal to clarify the process in May via emergency rule but was submitted to the Secretary of State as a proposed permanent rule at its July 30 meeting.
DraftKings, FanDuel escape “penalty box” to Rivers’ chagrin
FanDuel’s entry into Illinois also completes successful workarounds both it and DraftKings performed to bypass the “penalty box” provision of the bill Pritzker signed into law. The provision has its origin in 2015 when then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled DraftKings and FanDuel were operating daily fantasy sites illegally in the state, and Rivers owner Rush Street Interactive felt the pair should not be “rewarded” for such actions.
Originally Rush Street wanted a three-year provision, but Pritzker and lawmakers negotiated that down to 18 months from when the first retail sports wagering license was issued and when the first online-only sports wagering application would be accepted. That clock that began ticking in June when the IGB granted seven sports wagering licenses to casinos throughout the state.
Though Rivers Casino was the first to market with sports betting both for retail back in March and online in mid-June, the timeline in which both DraftKings and FanDuel entered the mobile fray was far earlier than Rivers would have preferred. The COVID-19 pandemic played a large role, evidenced by Pritzker’s issuance of Executive Order 2020-41, and DraftKings also turned the screws earlier this month with an email push that generated automated messages to the governor and Illinois legislators to reissue the executive order.
DraftKings had an active interest because Casino Queen is located in the southwest portion of Illinois, which is currently facing stricter mitigation measures to combat higher COVID-19 positive test rates. Casino Queen as well as Argosy Casino Alton are currently operating at 25% capacity and limited operating hours compared to the 50% capacity permitted in the IGB’s reopening protocols when casinos resumed operations July 1.
The back and forth between DraftKings and Rivers Casino has been heated this month, with DraftKings CEO and co-founder Jason Robins ripping Rivers owner Rush Street as “corrupt idiots” in a since-deleted Tweet on Monday. Rush Street fired back later that day in pithy fashion, saying, “Rush Street has never been asked to leave a state, pays taxes on every wager, and has not been named in multiple consumer class action suits.”
One other side effect from DraftKings and FanDuel partnering with brick-and-mortar casinos was that it cost the state of Illinois in license fees. The cost for a retail sports wagering license in Illinois is $10 million, while the price tag for one of the three online-only licenses Pritzker’s bill made available is $20 million.
It is widely expected PointsBet, through its partnership with Hawthorne Race Course, will be the next operator to go live since Hawthorne received its sports wagering license at the July 30 IGB meeting. William Hill, which launched its retail sportsbook at Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin on Aug. 1, also could be live online in time for the start of the NFL season.
Hollywood Casinos, which launched retail sportsbooks at Aurora and Joliet on Aug. 20, have not submitted a request to the IGB to commence online wagering, but the two sportsbooks run by Penn National Gaming are also facing increased COVID-19 mitigation measures after its region of Illinois had three straight days of positive test rates of 8% or higher.