After building the house that is sports betting in Illinois more than two years ago, it was time for some touch-ups and maintenance. Enter state Reps. Bob Rita and Mike Zalewski, who are at the forefront of gambling legislation in the state.
Rita, who serves as chairperson of the state’s Executive Committee, is the gatekeeper of sorts when it comes to what does and what does not get put into legislative bills that make their way to the House floor for a vote in Springfield. Zalewski has been a point person for aspects of sports wagering, taking on a key role regarding a partial removal of the college carveout during both the General Assembly regular session earlier this year and the just-completed veto session.
The end result of their efforts along with other legislators statewide was the passage of HB 3136 last Thursday night during the final hours of the General Assembly veto session. The bill included amendments and language that covered a wide array of gaming concerns beyond sports wagering, extending to casino gaming, video gaming, horse racing, and administrative procedures to help the Illinois Gaming Board. It was a satisfying conclusion to a cliffhanger from May, when a bill with much of the same language sailed through the House in its final hours but was never brought up for Senate concurrence.
The bill’s passage and expected signature from Gov. JB Pritzker is a sign of the growing influence gaming has garnered in the state and, specific to sports wagering, how Illinois is trying to keep its status as a top-three market to help generate vital tax revenue for the state.
In-person registration ends March 5
Great result for major online #sportsbetting operators FanDuel, DraftKings & co on remote registration in Illinois yesterday, but then followed by clear and unequivocal tribal opposition to online betting ballot measure in California today. Uphill battle in CA in 2022 now…
— James Kilsby (@JKilsbyDC) October 29, 2021
The addition of an official date for when Illinois bettors can download apps directly to their phones as opposed to driving to each casino to register for their preferred apps is the biggest sports wagering-related aspect of the gaming package. It marks the end of the “penalty box” provision that was the contentious issue that at times put the passage of legalized sports betting in jeopardy in Illinois.
The TL;DR version is Rush Street Gaming co-founder and Rivers Casino owner Neil Bluhm sought to keep FanDuel and DraftKings out of Illinois as a penalty for them illegally operating daily fantasy sports during the 2010s. Rush Street’s contention was that the DFS play created an unfair advantage in these online titans having existing databases they could use for signing up sports bettors. Bluhm originally pushed for a three-year ban, and the compromise worked out by Pritzker and other legislators was in-person registration plus a 540-day waiting period from when the first retail sports license was issued to when the first online-only application could be accepted by the Illinois Gaming Board.
The date-certain language in HB 3136 is neutral in that it neither shortens nor extends the total 630-day span from when the IGB issued its first retail sports wagering licenses in June 2020 to the date it could issue the first of as many as three online-only licenses allowed in the gaming expansion bill the governor signed into law in June 2019.
The date was added because it seems likely the IGB would need to extend the 90-day timeline for vetting potential applicants for those licenses given its heavy workload beyond sports wagering. The 540-day waiting period for the applications to be submitted to the board ends Dec. 3, and should an application be submitted and accepted that day, the 90-day review period commences, hence 630 days.
The actual effects Rivers sought for BetRivers with the 540-day waiting period were drastically lessened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shrewd workarounds by both DraftKings and FanDuel. Pritzker suspended the in-person registration provision via executive order, repeatedly renewing it to help mobile operators find their footing in the state. DraftKings and FanDuel partnered with and rebranded venues to establish a presence and be eligible to offer mobile wagering.
In the end, in-person registration merely slowed the inevitable reach of DraftKings and FanDuel in Illinois as both eventually overtook BetRivers in the pecking order of mobile handle. At the end of 2020, DraftKings and BetRivers each had one-third of the market share in Illinois, while FanDuel had almost one-quarter. Through the first nine months of 2021, the differences have been stark, as this table shows:
|Year||BetRivers Mobile Handle||BetRivers Mobile Market Share Percentage||DraftKings Mobile Handle||DratKings Mobile Market Share Percentage||FanDuel Mobile Handle||FanDuel Mobile Market Share Percentage|
Some of BetRivers’ market share erosion can also be chalked up to the other three mobile players currently in Illinois: PointsBet, Barstool Sportsbook, and Caesars. But it is the next group of entrants, with BetMGM the most likely sportsbook to cause a disruption among potential mobile operators, that could prove a challenge to maintaining that No. 3 spot.
Caesars is also a beneficiary of the date-certain language given its retail tether of Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin — approximately an hour west of Chicago — simply does not generate foot traffic for sports betting sign-ups despite GVC’s status as the No. 2 revenue generator among Illinois’ 10 brick-and-mortar casinos through the first nine months of the year. The $20 million Caesars may be considering to spend for an online-only license can now be plowed into advertising for potential emperors in the Chicago market, which comes at a premium as the third-largest market in the country.
Some headway in wagering on in-state schools
Rep. @mjzalewski on original college betting ban for IL events:
“I, quite frankly, underestimated the blowback. I thought that people would be kind of annoyed by it, but I didn’t think it would turn into cause du jour among sports betting twitter.” @670TheScore
— Joe Ostrowski (@JoeOstrowski) October 30, 2021
Removing a carveout when it comes to wagering on in-state schools is challenging for myriad reasons, with multiple stakeholders possessing legitimate reasons to be on either side of the ban. College sports wagering has accounted for more than $567.6 million in handle in Illinois this year, 14.1% of the overall $4 billion through the first eight months.
New Jersey voters are deciding on removing the ban on wagering on in-state schools via referendum Tuesday, and there is a very real chance it will get voted down in the largest sports betting market in the country. That makes the decision to go through the statehouse to include a partial removal tactfully pursued by Zalewski a savvy one. Recall Zalewski was the one who filed, and then re-filed a bill calling for a removal of the carveout in both this General Assembly and the previous one.
No one was ever going to get what they fully wanted, but it does appear each group can claim a victory in an area of importance. Retail sportsbooks get the foot traffic they always seek as the only places wagers on in-state schools are accepted; schools and universities get a degree of protection from the social media abuse student-athletes sometimes endure with no player props allowed.
The lack of live-game wagering also helps reduce the possibility of one of the worst forms of college sports scandals related to betting — point-shaving — and both sides get to revisit the process and results since the provision will be repealed July 1, 2023, unless extended. There is also the small boost in operator and tax revenue expected from the availability of these games for wagering.
And fans of Illinois-based schools get the opportunity to make wagers. In some respects, that may have been the most important lesson learned by lawmakers after the howls of outrage from being unable to bet on Loyola’s second-round NCAA tournament upset of Illinois last March and the other three games the Ramblers and Illini played around their matchup.
That $633.6 million wagered in March — a record likely to fall in the coming days when the Illinois Gaming Board releases its September figures — included at least $176.8 million and most likely $200 million or more on the NCAA tournament.
Wintrust now eligible to apply for license
Let’s hear it for the @chicagosky! We’re proud to honor our #WNBA Champions with a #SkyTown celebratory train wrap. Look for our specially-designed, blue-and-yellow rail cars rolling on the Green Line, beginning Monday 11/1!https://t.co/yU9Zhf7LXw pic.twitter.com/8nSPzGFXQz
— cta (@cta) November 1, 2021
The newest Chicago sports venue, Wintrust Arena, which opened in 2017, originally did not make the cut as an eligible facility for a sports wagering license since its capacity is less than the 17,000-seat threshold established. But the rise of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, which culminated last month with the team’s first WNBA title, and the efforts of team owner Michael Alter, state Rep. Lamont Robinson, and state Sen. Mattie Hunter — the Executive Committee’s gaming vice-chair — led to HB 3136 including language that made the 10,384-seat arena eligible to apply for a sports facility wagering license.
Alter had made it known he preferred to have his team control its destiny with regard to a sports wagering license since Wintrust is the Sky’s third home court since entering the WNBA in 2006, but did say “we’ll work with it” should HB 3136 pass.
Uncertain is what role, if any, Wintrust Arena co-tenant DePaul University will have in the process. The men’s basketball team plays its home games there, while the women’s team uses it for select contests and utilized Wintrust Arena for the Big East Conference tournament. This may prove to be an instance where the Sky, as designee of the license, conduct wagering within a five-block radius of the physical venue as allowed by the bill signed into law.