The Illinois Gaming Board approved seven casinos for Master Sports Wagering licenses Thursday, moving the Land of Lincoln another step closer to having mobile sports betting available in the near future.
The Argosy in Alton, Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, Hollywood Casinos in Aurora and Joliet, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Casino Queen in East St. Louis, and Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino were all unanimously approved by the board for four-year licenses that expire in June 2024. All seven previously held an owner’s license and temporary sports wagering permit, with the Argosy and Rivers the lone two provisionally approved to accept wagers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered casinos across Illinois in March.
The licenses, which cost up to $10 million, were established in the $12 billion capital bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last June that made sports betting legal in Illinois. Rivers Casino was the first to accept sports wagers in March, but the Rivers Casino Des Plaines was open for less than a week before casinos were closed.
Despite the IGB holding its first board meeting since January due to COVID-19, the license approvals continued a recent whirlwind of activity surrounding sports betting in Illinois. Earlier this month, the board proposed an emergency rule change in relation to branding for mobile and internet sports betting, and Pritzker issued an executive order on June 4 suspending the in-person requirement for mobile sports wagering, allowing bettors to register remotely while Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations are in place.
The IGB also released reopening protocols Wednesday that allow casinos to “detail occupancy requirements that allow up to 50% capacity,” though Administrator Marcus Fruchter did not offer any specific date for reopening during Thursday’s meeting. Illinois is currently in Phase 3 of Pritzker’s Restore Illinois reopening plan and has stated the earliest the state could reach Phase 4 — which includes allowing indoor dining at restaurants and gatherings of up to 50 people — is June 26.
Importance of Masters Sports Wagering licenses
The granting of Masters Sports Wagering licenses is a needed step for casinos with retail sportsbooks to offer mobile sports betting. As stated in Section 25-35 of SB690:
(d) An owners licensee issued a master sports wagering license may conduct sports wagering: (1) at its facility in this State that is authorized to conduct gambling operations under the Illinois Gambling Act; and (2) over the Internet or through a mobile application.
The Illinois Gaming Board just handed out master sports betting licenses to seven casinos. Each still needs to request approval to offer online betting.
— Mitchell Armentrout (@mitchtrout) June 11, 2020
According to Joe Miller, director of policy for the IGB, the next step is to “make a request to commence online wagering under Rule 1100.” There are no current mobile sports betting platforms available in Illinois, but Rivers Casino appears poised to launch through BetRivers, having both a management services provider temporary operating permit through Rush Street Interactive and a supplier temporary operating permit via GeoComply.
Penn Sports Interactive is the only other management services provider with a temporary operating permit, while another five — including FanDuel via BetFair Interactive, DraftKings through Crown IL Gaming, and PointsBet — are still in the applicant queue.
The license approval also finally starts the 18-month “penalty box” provision for mobile-only operators to go live. The rule was intended to punish both FanDuel and DraftKings for continuing to operate daily fantasy contests in Illinois after former Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion that DFS constituted illegal gambling.
Both online titans, though, may have potential entry points into the Illinois market well before that 18-month provision expires. FanDuel has partnered with Boyd Gaming, and Par-A-Dice — which is owned by Boyd Gaming — was granted a four-year casino license renewal through March 2024 on Thursday. The board also approved a request for “subsidiary guarantee of debt financing change by parent entity Boyd Gaming Corporation subject to final financing documentation being submitted.”
DraftKings is partnered with Caesars, which has ties to Harrah’s in Joliet. Jumer’s Casino in Rock Island is owned by Delaware North, which is a partner of IGT in West Virginia, and IGT has partnered with DraftKings at Mississippi’s Scarlet Pearl. Neither Harrah’s nor Jumer’s have applied for a sports betting license, while Casino Queen — a potential partner — is employee-owned.
In those instances, the casinos could rebrand or offer the operator apps without featuring the partner. The second option, however, would likely prove to be an unattractive one for FanDuel and/or DraftKings.
Thursday’s meeting was conducted with the minimum number of three board members present for a quorum. The IGB announced Steve Dolins, who had been on the board since May 2016 and whose term did not expire until July 2021, resigned citing personal reasons. Sergeant Ruben Ramirez was not present for the meeting.
In the case of Dolins, his successor must also be a certified public accountant since the board must be comprised of at least one member “with law enforcement and criminal investigation experience,” at least one member who is an “attorney licensed in Illinois,” and at least one member who is a “certified public accountant.”
The board also adopted a resolution designed to delegate more authority to Fruchter as the IGB continues to navigate its way through the pandemic. Fruchter, who was appointed administrator in May 2019, will have the ability to adopt and file emergency rules and the authority to issue licenses for the Sports Wagering Act to “all individuals and entities already licensed by the Board and to make all suitability findings and approvals necessary there, too.” He will have these powers through and 60 days after the termination of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations.