Sports bettors in the state of Illinois may have easy access to mobile sports wagering much sooner than expected, thanks to an executive order issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday. While no legal digital sportsbooks are yet live in Illinois, one or more could get a green light to launch later this month.
Pritzker, who legalized sports betting in the Land of Lincoln nearly a year ago when he signed a $12 billion capital bill into law, signed Executive Order 2020-41 Thursday. It recognizes that “Illinois residents may not be able to appear in-person at a casino” since there have been no definitive social-distancing guidelines established to re-open the casinos due to the COVID-19 pandemic and “will reopen only when safe to do so pursuant to the Restore Illinois plan.”
The relevant part of the Executive Order, Section I, reads:
“During the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations, the provisions in the Sports Wagering Act, 230 ILCS, 45/25-30 (f), 25-35 (f), and 25-40 (i), requiring in-person creation of a sports wagering account at a facility authorized pursuant to the Act in order to participate in sports wagering offered over the internet or through a mobile application, are suspended.”
“Governor Pritzker’s executive order allows Illinois sports fans to temporarily place wagers from the safety of their own home, protecting a revenue source that is critical as the state begins to recover from the damaging financial impact of COVID-19,” said Marcus Fruchter, Administrator of the Illinois Gaming Board, in a statement Friday. “The Illinois Gaming Board looks forward to welcoming patrons back to casinos when it is safe to do so.”
The law requires bettors to register in person to open a mobile account, though no sportsbooks have yet received licensure to go live online by the Illinois Gaming Board. Only two casinos, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and the Argosy in Alton, are provisionally approved to accept wagers at their retail locations, and both were open less than a week in March before being shuttered due to the pandemic.
Through a spokesperson, Rivers Casino declined to comment on the Executive Order on Friday.
Five other casinos — Casino Queen, Grand Victoria Casino, Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino and the Hollywood Casinos in Joliet and Aurora — all have temporary operating permits but not approval to accept wagers ahead of the next scheduled Illinois Gaming Board meeting June 11.
Responsive move as live sports move closer to return
The proclamation in the executive order could prove very helpful for Illinois casinos. The English Premier League — the world’s most popular domestic soccer league — is set to resume play June 17 and the German Bundesliga has already resumed. The NBA announced Thursday it will restart its season July 31 with 22 teams to finish the season, and the NHL has announced plans for a 24-team playoff, with a start date yet to be determined.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have been in negotiations for a 2020 season for four weeks and have yet to settle on a host of issues, including the length of any potential season.
Next week’s IGB meeting also includes a proposed rule clarification regarding branding for mobile sports wagering. BetRivers sportsbook appears to be first in line to get to market for mobile, with parent company Rush Street Interactive approved as a Management Services Provider and GeoComply approved as a supplier.
A mobile frenzy in the Land of Lincoln?
Pritzker’s executive order also potentially affects FanDuel and DraftKings. The bill the governor signed into law last year included an 18-month “penalty box” provision for mobile-only operators to go live, which was to begin after the first “Owners” sports betting license was issued in Illinois. The rule was intended to punish both operators for continuing to operate daily fantasy contests in Illinois after former Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion that DFS constituted illegal gambling.
That clock has yet to start since only temporary operating permits have been issued, which has led to the two online titans looking for alternative routes to enter the market. The statement from the IGB on Friday also said the Executive Order “will remain in effect until the Illinois Gaming Board issues a master sports wagering license,” which could result in a further delay in starting that clock.
Sources at FanDuel told Sports Handle they “are pleased with the development and exploring options to be live in Illinois as soon as possible.” FanDuel has been engaged in talks to purchase Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville, Ill., which also has access to the St. Louis market.
DraftKings has also taken steps to align itself with a retail sportsbook, submitting an application for a Management Services Provider license in late April, according to the IGB’s official website, but it is uncertain who that sportsbook would be.
DraftKings has potential tie-ins with two casinos that have yet to apply for a sports betting license — Harrah’s in Joliet through Caesars and Jumer’s in Rock Island. Jumer’s owner Delaware North partners with IGT in West Virginia, and IGT partners with DraftKings at the tribal Scarlet Pearl in Mississippi.