COLLINSVILLE, Ill. — The Wizard of Oz took a swing at being the Wizard of Odds on Monday when Baseball Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith made the ceremonial first bet at the newly rebranded FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing in the southwest portion of Illinois near St. Louis.
Smith placed a $20 bet on the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2021 World Series at +2200, which would be a total payout of $460. The 13-time Gold Glove winner did not do a backflip upon approaching the ticket counter but noted it was a new experience for him as Major League Baseball has gradually come around to embrace sports betting’s expansion across the nation.
“I’m a novice, and playing for 19 years, they frowned on [sports betting] and I stayed as far away from it as I could,” Smith said after placing his bet. “For a long time after a guy retired, he couldn’t be associated with any casinos or anything of that nature, so most of us stayed away from it.
“And it has evolved, and now you can bet on anything.”
This is the second retail sportsbook for FanDuel in Illinois, the other being Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria, which opened in mid-September. Formerly known as Fairmount Park, FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing is the second track to open a retail sportsbook in the state, with Hawthorne Race Course teaming with PointsBet to open in late September in the Chicago suburb of Stickney.
Overall, there are 10 retail locations for sports bettors in Illinois — seven casinos, both racing tracks, and Hawthorne’s off-track betting site in Crestwood.
Taking the long road to open
Overall, this is the 16th retail sportsbook FanDuel has opened. The FanDuel Group has been associated with horse racing since its 2018 purchase of TVG, which allows bettors to wager via advance deposit wagering in Illinois. FanDuel Senior Director of Retail Operations Jeff Lowich noted the process of converting FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing into a full-on racino is still in the early stages, and that Monday’s ribbon-cutting was a big step to that end.
“Coming from the racing side myself, being able to be a part of the revitalization of this location is super-exciting for me personally, and from a company standpoint we couldn’t be more excited to open here,” Lowich told Sports Handle. “This is one of the first steps in making this location an entertainment destination, which is the end game for FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing.
“You want to continue to add amenities, you want to continue adding options for customers so that you’re not coming here for just horse racing. I think there’s steps to go, but this is a big one in the process.”
It has been a longer-than-expected road to open the retail sportsbook. FanDuel had been in talks to acquire Fairmount Park as early as March 2020, but it then used its relationship with Boyd Gaming to enter Illinois at Par-A-Dice to make sure it did not lag far behind rival DraftKings for entry into the state’s large mobile sportsbook market. Despite the lag, Lowich is pleased at the end result.
“Everything progressed well,” he said. “Just like in any business, things happen and you have to stay agile. You do what you have to do to get business done and serve the customers that you want to serve, and that’s what we did. I don’t have any complaints about the way things went, it just wasn’t the way it was originally planned. … It’s just how it works sometimes.”
Helton hopes to have racino open by Q4 2022
From the moment Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker legalized sports wagering in June 2019 as part of a gaming expansion bill, the ability for tracks to expand into racinos has been seen as a lifeline to the horse racing industry. With the announced sale of the Arlington International Racecourse property by owner Churchill Downs Inc. last month, that leaves FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing and Hawthorne Race Course as the last two tracks in the state, and both are moving toward the end game of opening racinos to revitalize “the sport of kings.”
“It’s been a year in the making since I’ve been here. That was my No. 1 goal, to get us up and running, and here we are,” track General Manager Melissa Helton explained to Sports Handle. “I was lucky enough to find some that have the horse racing experience, too, that worked at a track and at a casino. That’s been the biggest goal, to get those people here so we can take off running as a whole team.”
Helton’s primary goal is to get the purses bigger for the horsemen, something that will be aided with the Aug. 28 running of the $250,000 St. Louis Derby. It is the first time the race will be run in 15 years, and with the eventual casino comes an increase of racing days.
“We have to get the new generation in here,” she said, echoing the sentiments from Hawthorne CEO Tim Carey at PointsBet’s retail opening. “Bringing the sportsbook, that will teach them the horse racing and get them more interested in that again. This is the best location we could be in, off all the interstates to bring in everyone from everywhere.”
The sportsbook amenities
The sportsbook area itself is adjacent to the simulcast viewing area. There are six self-serve kiosks just outside the main area along with six large screens for odds and sports viewing. An additional 16 self-serve kiosks are inside the sportsbook area to go with five manual ticket counters.
Also inside the sportsbook are 24 65-inch LED television displays, a center LED television screen that measures 98 inches, and a sports ticker.