It went to overtime, and then a little longer after that. But bettors in Illinois are close to being able to make legal wagers on games involving in-state teams — with a few conditions.
SB 521 passed in the House Tuesday with a three-fifths majority required since it did not come to a vote prior to midnight. Rep. Bob Rita, who is one of the primary drivers of gaming laws in the state, navigated the bill through three Executive Committee votes Monday and brought the bill to the House floor shortly before 1 a.m. local time after a fourth amendment was approved.
The House passed the bill by a 96-11 count with one voting present at approximately 1:20 a.m. It was placed on the Secretary’s Desk for a vote Tuesday in the Senate for concurrence but never came up in the session before the Senate adjourned. It is expected SB 521 will be brought up the next time the Senate meets to finish leftover business from this session.
Illinois is among a handful of states with legalized sports betting that have “carveouts” prohibiting wagering on games involving in-state colleges and universities. There are seven schools in the state that play football at either the FBS or FCS level and 13 that play Division I men’s and women’s basketball, with Big Ten rivals Illinois and Northwestern the marquee draws.
This past March, the NCAA tournament put Illinois’ carveout in the spotlight because a second-round matchup pitted Illinois against Loyola of Chicago — a contest that would have generated significant action in the state had it been available for betting. While the Illinois Gaming Board reported a handle of $176.8 million for March Madness without one operator providing figures, the belief is that the NCAA tournament handle would have eclipsed $200 million had the four games involving Illinois and Loyola been on the board.
The potential handle from those four games also would have likely propelled Illinois into the No. 2 spot nationally for handle above Nevada in March since its record overall handle of $633.6 million was less than $7.2 million behind the Silver State.
What is available for wagering on in-state schools
Illinois bettors will wake up in about 5 hours being able to wager on in state college games, upon a Gov Pritzker signature.
It’ll be in person, at a casino, race track, or OTB only.
I’m ready for your heat, @JoeO670.
— Michael J. Zalewski (@mjzalewski) June 1, 2021
Bettors would only be allowed to place “Tier 1” wagers involving in-state schools. A Tier 1 wager, as defined in the June 2019 bill legalizing sports wagering that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law, is a “sports wager that is determined solely by the final score or final outcome of the sports event and is placed before the sports event has begun.”
Most of the legwork was done by Rep. Mike Zalewski, who had previously filed HB 849 in February to remove the ban on college wagering on in-state schools. During the question-and-answer session prior to the House vote on SB 521, Zalewski called it “a very fair compromise.”
“We took the concerns of [Illinois Athletic Director] Josh Whitman to heart, who said that a saturated sports betting market would do damage to collegiate athletics. That’s not what this bill does,” he said. “This bill is a good balance between what we heard from stakeholders and in being able to improve our sports betting market.”
SB 521 makes no mention of Tier 2, or in-game wagering, which means those types of bets would be unavailable for games involving in-state teams. There would also be no player prop bets for games involving in-state colleges and universities, but there was little appetite to include those types of wagers given the unified opposition among the state’s Division I schools.
While Tier 1 bets would be allowed, placing those specific wagers will not be convenient. Bettors would only be able to make wagers involving in-state schools in person at retail sportsbooks across Illinois. In other words, not available via online sportsbooks, which is the primary medium for wagering in Illinois and in all states permitting mobile wagering.
Does BetRivers get a leg up with the lack of mobile?
Also missing from SB 521 was anything regarding the removal of the in-person registration provision to gain access to mobile wagering from the 2019 bill. That provision had been suspended for most of the pandemic via Executive Order 2020-41 by Pritzker — allowing bettors to sign up for online accounts through remote registration — until he opted not to renew it in early April.
During his floor comments, Rita expressed his preference in bringing a smaller gaming bill to the floor that would prove easier for passage, with issues including in-person registration and branding as they pertain to sports betting to be left for another time. The vastly different parts of the 126-page amendment attached to SB 521, which covered video gaming terminals (VGTs), breeding rules for horse racing, and licensing requirements for a standardbred track in the south suburbs of Chicago, required multiple groups to be aligned for passage.
That said, SB 521 and the lack of movement toward removing the in-person registration appear on the surface to benefit Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the highest revenue producer among the state’s seven casinos and two horse racing tracks that currently offer retail sports wagering. Its mobile component, BetRivers, was the first to market in the state last June but has since been overtaken in monthly handle by both DraftKings and FanDuel.
BetRivers Sportsbook, though, has the ability to draw from the metropolitan Chicago area, which could result in more signups for general mobile wagering provided betting on state schools proves a popular draw. PointsBet, which operates retail sportsbooks at Hawthorne Race Course in the south Chicago suburb of Stickney and off-track betting locations in Crestwood and Prospect Heights, could also potentially benefit from multiple venues.
To a lesser extent, Barstool Sportsbook and William Hill could gain mobile sign-ups from retail books at Hollywood Aurora and Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, respectively. Another possibility depending on geography is some Illinois bettors will continue to find it easier to cross into Indiana and Iowa and make those wagers online.
The top two mobile operators in the state, DraftKings and FanDuel, have their retail tethers in the western side of the state close to the Missouri border. DraftKings rebranded Casino Queen in East St. Louis last summer, and FanDuel did likewise with Fairmount Park in Collinsville in March after originally entering Illinois via Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria last September.
Wintrust Arena eligible for sports facility license
A different component of SB 521 that had no notable opposition was an amendment that makes Wintrust Arena in Chicago — home of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky — eligible to apply for a sports facility sports wagering license to open a retail sportsbook. The original bill stated only venues holding more than 17,000 people could apply for a license, but the added language now provides an exception for “a venue in a municipality of more than 1,000,000, a seating capacity greater than 10,000 persons.”
Wintrust Arena, which is also home to DePaul University’s men’s and women’s college basketball teams, has a capacity of 10,387. In the previous General Assembly, State Rep. Lamont Robinson Jr. filed a bill in the House with language that would have made the Sky eligible to apply for a Master Sports Wagering license.
While no venue has applied for a sports facility sports wagering license, according to the IGB’s official website, the Chicago Cubs and DraftKings announced plans last September to build a sportsbook at Wrigley Field.
And in non-legislative news
The IGB website lists Harrah’s Joliet and Metropolis casinos as applicants for a sports wagering Owner’s License as of May 27 and May 28, respectively. The additions mean all 10 of the state’s casinos are either licensed to offer sports wagering or applicants for a license. Canadian-based sportsbook theScore reached an agreement to be the mobile book of Harrah’s Joliet in late March, while Harrah’s Metropolis has yet to announce a mobile partner.
Jumer’s in Rock Island, which submitted its application for an owner’s license Dec. 28, is expected to have Bally Bet as its mobile sportsbook after the casino was purchased by Twin River for $120 million last October prior to the company’s rebranding to Bally’s.