Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed HB 3136 into law late Friday afternoon, a bill that will impact sports wagering in one of the biggest markets in the country.
The biggest piece of the mini-gaming omnibus bill overwhelmingly passed in both chambers during the fall veto session establishes March 5 as a start date for remote registration. It is a neutral date in the sense that it does not forward or extend the 630-day span from when the Illinois Gaming Board issued its first retail sports wagering licenses to when it could issue the first of three online-only licenses.
The IGB is allowed 90 days from receiving online applications to issuing a license or licenses — they cost $20 million each — per the gaming expansion bill signed into law in June 2019. It is currently reviewing three of them, but the agency also has the discretion to extend that timeline as needed, thus creating the want for date certainty to begin remote registration.
Illinois currently has in-person registration, which has been in place as written in the law after Pritzker allowed Executive Order 2020-41 to lapse in early April. He issued the executive order and repeatedly renewed it to suspend that provision and allow remote sign-up for most of 2020. That allowed the fledgling industry to establish a foundation after the first wagers were accepted in March 2020, just days before the sports world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The extensions proved helpful as Illinois has established itself as a top-three market nationally, with nearly 96% of its handle being generated via mobile and online wagering. Illinois set an all-time monthly handle record with $840.4 million in October, which is currently the ninth-largest monthly handle nationally in the post-PASPA era. Having remote registration available shortly before the NCAA tournament, as well as a clearly defined run-up to the actual date for operators to have promotional sign-up offers, could give Illinois a chance at a billion-dollar handle fueled by March Madness.
Limited wagering begins on in-state schools
Pritzker signs law repealing in-state ban on Illinois college sports betting – Chicago Sun-Times https://t.co/SwAc79Oluk
— Doug Wolfe – WAND TV (@WANDTVDoug) December 19, 2021
The original Sports Wagering Act had a carveout banning wagers on games involving in-state colleges, which caused some grousing among bettors. Those voices grew louder in March when Illinois faced Loyola of Chicago in the second round of the NCAA tournament, costing Illinois sportsbooks a notable source of handle even while wagering on the tournament on a whole was as widely popular as expected.
HB 3136, in some respects, is trying to split the baby when it comes to addressing both sides of wagering on Illinois college athletics. It allows wagering, but only pre-game bets made in person at retail sportsbooks, with no live wagering. Those wagers are expected to be available in the coming weeks, but prop plays on those games will not be available.
The IGB does not break out specific college football and college basketball handle, but wagering on college sports in Illinois totaled more than $789.8 million in the first 10 months of the year. More than 96% of that handle came via online wagering, and that handle does not take into account bettors who may be including college games in parlay wagers.
Wintrust Arena now eligible for a license
The bill signed by Pritzker also makes Wintrust Arena eligible to apply for a sports facility sports wagering license, raising the number of eligible sports facilities in Chicago to five. Wintrust did not meet the capacity requirement in the Sports Wagering Act, but with Wintrust home court to the recently crowned WNBA champion Chicago Sky, team owner Michael Alter was able to ride that momentum to get lawmakers on his side to include the 10,387-seat arena in the new bill.
Its location near McCormick Place could eventually wind up being a place for retail sports betting competition against the eventual winning bidder of the downtown Chicago casino license, as a majority of the proposals include the area as central to their casino plans. One other logistical note could see the actual sportsbook be located within a five-block radius as opposed to inside the arena, since DePaul University’s basketball teams play at Wintrust and the Big East Conference has the arena in its rotation for the postseason women’s basketball conference tournament.
The ordinance that lifted the home rule ban on retail sportsbooks in Chicago, including at Wintrust Arena, passed through city council last week but not without some high-powered attention. Team owners of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks lined up against Rivers Casino magnate and Rush Street Gaming co-founder Neil Bluhm.