The travails of gaining access to online registration in Illinois have taken yet another twist as DraftKings has begun an email campaign asking residents to email Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reinstate his Executive Order No. 41 from June that suspended the in-person registration provision of the bill he signed into law legalizing sports wagering last year.
Mobile wagering in the state is currently available only through BetRivers, which is run by Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, and DraftKings, which operates out of Casino Queen in East St. Louis. There are currently four retail sportsbooks accepting wagers in the Land of Lincoln, with William Hill at Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and Argosy Casino Alton the others.
BetRivers was the first to go live for mobile sports wagering June 18, but Pritzker took many by surprise two weeks prior when he issued Executive Order 2020-41, which suspended the in-person registration provision as a COVID-19 related measure when casinos in Illinois were closed. Rather than have to appear at a sports betting venue to register for a digital platform, customers could register from their computers or mobile devices.
The Executive Order was renewed June 26 through Executive Order 2020-44, but just as surprisingly, the governor let it lapse July 24 when Executive Order 2020-48 did not renew the suspension a second time.
Three other casinos — Par-A-Dice in East Peoria and the Hollywood Casinos in Joliet and Aurora — also have sports betting licenses, while Hawthorne Race Course — in partnership with PointsBet — is currently the only horse racing track to have been granted a sports wagering license by the state gaming board. None of those four venues, though, have been granted Provisionary Wagering Status and are not accepting bets.
DraftKings’ pivots to counter COVID mitigation measures
Due to recent restrictions from the State of Illinois, starting today we will have updated times and protocols for our property: pic.twitter.com/JYABnnDoZF
— DraftKings at Casino Queen (@DKatCQ) August 18, 2020
DraftKings sending out a call to action comes partly in response to the increased COVID-19 mitigation measures that took effect Tuesday in the southwestern portion of Illinois. Both Casino Queen and Argosy Casino Alton are located in Region 4, an area that covers seven counties that averaged or exceeded an 8% positive test rate for three consecutive days from Friday-Sunday, triggering further mitigation.
The two casinos, which were already operating at 50% capacity per IGB protocols that allowed casinos statewide to open July 1, had their capacities further reduced to 25%. Closing time for Casino Queen and Argosy Casino Alton is 11 p.m. for at least the next two weeks, a move that syncs with the closing time for bars and restaurants both in Region 4 and St. Louis just across the state line in Missouri.
— DraftKings at Casino Queen (@DKatCQ) August 17, 2020
DraftKings at Casino Queen, which opened its retail sportsbook Aug. 5, also has sought to make in-person registration for mobile access easier by using GeoComply’s Pinpoint Solution on premises to permit bettors to register from the parking lot and limit potential COVID-19 exposure.
What the messages say and who gets them
The email sent by DraftKings provides a link to the website “Fans for the Future,” where users with an Illinois mailing address can fill out their contact information. After entering their contact information, three messages are auto-generated to be sent to Illinois legislators at three levels — State Representative, State Senator, and Gov. Pritzker.
The messages to Illinois state representatives and state senators appear targeted to users’ corresponding legislative members by address. It is not clear if any of the three messages are specifically designated to reach a specific state legislator or the governor, but all three are clearly in support of online registration.
“I just tried to sign up and was told that I have to go to a casino to open up an account. I don’t understand. Why should I have to leave my home to do something that I can do more easily on my phone? This makes no sense. If I can register online for an illegal account with no consumer protections, I should be able to register online for a legal account that protects Illinois sports fans and generates revenue for our state at a time when it’s desperately needed. Please right this wrong.”
“I just found out that the state stopped letting people sign-up online to bet. That’s ridiculous. Especially during COVID, no one should be forced to leave their homes and drive hours in order to take part in an online activity they could legally do just last month, and I should be able to choose how to register. If Illinois sports fans can sign up for illegal sites from home, they should be allowed to register online for a legal account that protects consumers and generates revenue for our state when we need it the most. Please help fix this so I can sign up to place mobile sports bets on my phone.”
“I urge you to do whatever you can to allow for full mobile sports betting without me having to drive somewhere to sign up first. As an Illinois sports fan I want to place mobile bets now that sports are returning. But I don’t want to leave my home to register somewhere in-person. Please reinstate online registration and ensure that Illinois sports fans have consumer protections that they won’t have if they choose to just sign up at home for an illegal offshore account.”
DraftKings still grappling with “penalty box” provision
DraftKings has expended plenty of effort in entering the Illinois market by finding a workaround of the “penalty box” provision of the bill Pritzker signed into law. The law requires a 540-day wait for an online-only license application to be received by the IGB after the first retail sports wagering license was issued. With an additional 90 days allowed before the regulatory body could announce “winning bidders,” an online-only sportsbook would not launch in the state until 2022 at the earliest.
The “penalty box” dates back to 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 online titans should not be “rewarded” for such actions. That prompted DraftKings and FanDuel to explore alternate ways of entering Illinois, leading to DraftKings entering a market-access deal with Casino Queen in late June and rebranding the casino last month to have top billing.
Speaking on a conference call last week to discuss second-quarter earnings, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins addressed the efforts and the issues trying to activate sports betting closer to the Chicago market — competitors BetRivers, William Hill, and PointsBet are all situated within 40 miles of the “Windy City.”
“Well, certainly, that’s something that we’ve had discussion about. And I think the thing to remember with Illinois and — it feels like a long time given how much has happened early in the market, but it really isn’t,” Robins said. “The statute calls for 18 months after the first operator goes live they can begin to issue mobile licenses. And once one of those is issued, doesn’t matter who it’s issued to, the requirement to register in person goes away. So our hope is that that happens, at least on that time frame.
“And we also think there’s potential given the possibility of a budget gap that the State of Illinois could be facing that they decide — that they did a few months ago, to suspend the in-person registration for a longer period of time. But really, I think, regardless of where the in-person registration would happen, that alone is going to always stifle the size of the market by multiples.”
(Matt Rybaltowski contributed to this report)