Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker accelerated the timeline for mobile sports betting availability June 4 when he issued Executive Order 2020-41, suspending the provision that required in-person registration for bettors to obtain a mobile app. Last Thursday, the Illinois Gaming Board granted Rivers and six other casinos Master Sports Wagering licenses, a requirement for casinos to then ask the board’s approval to operate as an Online Sports Wagering Operator.
“We are excited to make history in bringing the first online sportsbook to sports fans in our home state just in time as American sports are coming back into action,” said Richard Schwartz, president of Rush Street Interactive, in a statement.
Rivers, which is located just outside Chicago’s city limits and near O’Hare International Airport, was also the first in Illinois to accept in-person sports bets in March, though BetRivers Sportsbook was active less than one week before being shuttered — along with Illinois’ nine other casinos — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pritzker legalized sports betting last June when he signed a $12 billion capital bill into law that greatly expanded gaming in the Land of Lincoln.
The state’s casinos are still closed due to the pandemic, with the earliest possible reopening date June 26 if the state advances to Phase 4 of Restore Illinois. The IGB provided casinos with reopening protocols June 10 but did not establish a reopening date.
The “state of the state” for Illinois mobile sports betting
Illinois is the 11th state (the District of Columbia also has mobile sports betting) to launch mobile sports betting and the third in the Midwest with bordering states Indiana and Iowa. The Hoosier State has remote registration, which was a draw to Chicago-area residents with nearby casinos across the state line, while the Hawkeye State requires in-person registration until that provision sunsets at year’s end.
The bill the governor signed into law last year included an 18-month “penalty box” provision — aimed at DraftKings and FanDuel — 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.
With BetRivers going live, the urgency for the two online giants to enter Illinois has climbed higher. When Pritzker issued the Executive Order, sources at FanDuel told Sports Handle they were “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 moved 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. It remains to be seen who its potential partner in Illinois will be.
Penn National could be the next to market since the Argosy in Alton had also been provisionally approved to accept wagers before the COVID-19 pandemic, but PointsBet may also be in the running to be second. It has a deal in place to be the sportsbook at Hawthorne Racecourse, which is waiting word on approval for its sports betting license as part of a larger racino license.
The third track in Illinois, Arlington Park, has applied only for a sports betting license and is expected to use BetAmerica for mobile sports betting. Arlington Park is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated, which purchased a 62% stake in Rivers Casino in March 2019 and is teaming with Rush Street Interactive for a potential casino in Waukegan.
The current sports menu
WOW.. I now have a legal online sports betting account in the state of Illinois.
— Rodney (@KnuppelRodney) June 18, 2020
Going live at this moment looks to be optimal than in weeks past as more U.S. and international sports are returning to action. The PGA Tour saw a notable bump in attention upon its return last week, with in-play betting popular, and the English Premier League resumed play Wednesday after 100 days due to the pandemic-enforced recess.
NASCAR, the German Bundesliga, and Korean Baseball have been in action for weeks, and the U.S. market is set to pick up next month with the return of the NBA, NHL, MLS, and WNBA. Major League Baseball and its Players’ Association are reportedly close to a deal that would result in a season of at least 60 games with an expanded playoffs.
“While entertainment options are limited as we seek to minimize the spread of the virus, we are focused on BetRivers.com providing sportsbook players with a high-quality on-line product with exciting sports betting options,” Schwartz said. “We will have great customer service with fast payouts and an overall friendly approach that treats every player with honesty and care.”