Sports betting in Illinois will officially launch Monday following Friday’s announcement by Rivers Casino in Des Plaines that it will begin accepting wagers at noon CT.
Sports betting became legal in June 2019 after Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a massive capital gaming bill into law. The Illinois Gaming Board has been in high gear since releasing the applications and initial rules package in December, and Rivers Casino — one of five casinos in Illinois to have been granted a temporary Master Sports Wagering operating permit and the only one in Illinois to have a temporary operating permit as a Management Services Provider — has apparently won the race to be the first to offer legal sports betting in the Land of Lincoln.
The IGB also updated the wagering status of Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, LLC — which filed for the sports betting owners license doing business as Rivers Casino — to “provisionary.”
Illinois will become the 15th state to accept legal wagers for sports betting when counting mobile and retail sportsbooks and will edge out Michigan, which is set to take its first bets Wednesday. Former Chicago Blackhawks forward and current NHL on NBC and NBC Sports Chicago hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk will join Rivers Casino CEO John Carlin and Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm in placing the ceremonial first bet.
“The BetRivers Sportsbook will take March Madness out of the office pool and into an exciting, elevated live sports wagering experience,” said Corey Wise, senior vice president and general manager of Rivers Casino. “We are grateful to the Illinois Gaming Board staff for their work approving our sportsbook in time for the college basketball tournament — one of the greatest sports events of the year.”
Rivers Casino set to put BetRivers SportsBar to use
In December, Rivers Casino unveiled the BetRivers SportsBar, designed by DMAC Architecture, in the area where the sportsbook will be located. Rivers dedicated nearly 5,000 square feet of space to the sportsbook space, which includes a 47-foot-wide ultra HD LED video wall that features a sports score crawl. There are 10 86-inch and four 75-inch HD television screens situated throughout the lounge for live sports viewing, as well as a 32-seat, full-service island bar. Another 29 leather lounge chairs and further table seating options are within the SportsBar area, along with 26 bar-top video poker games.
Pritzker expressed confidence last month that sports betting would be available by the start of the March Madness college basketball tournament. One thing bettors in Illinois will not be able to do is wager on in-state college teams, which was a provision in the gaming bill. That means there will be no betting available on games involving the Fighting Illini should it qualify for the 68-team tournament as expected.
For the conference tournaments in the week leading up to March Madness, the in-state provision would also rule out wagering on games involving Illinois and Northwestern (Big Ten); DePaul (Big East); Loyola of Chicago, Bradley, Southern Illinois, and Illinois State (Missouri Valley); Northern Illinois (Mid-American); Illinois-Chicago (Horizon); Eastern Illinois and SIU-Edwardsville (Ohio Valley); Western Illinois (Summit); and Chicago State (WAC).
We are proud to announce that BetRivers Sportsbook will accept Illinois' first sports bet on Monday, March 9 pending final regulatory approval. Join us at noon to place your first bet! pic.twitter.com/lpbmKjArGS
— Rivers Casino (@RiversCasinoCHI) March 6, 2020
Will Rivers Casino cut into the Northwest Indiana market?
Rivers Casino will be the first Illinois-side challenger to the Northwest Indiana sports betting market, which gets a good deal of Illinois traffic at both Ameristar Casino in East Chicago and Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. Something that will be of keen interest early is whether people will make the trek to Rivers on the northwest side of Chicago since Illinois requires in-person registration to access mobile sports betting apps, while Indiana does not. That has helped the Hoosier State enjoy a consistently robust handle since going live in September, and the Indiana Gaming Commission posted a record $170.8 million handle in January, including $123.3 million via mobile.
Rivers Casino is co-owned by Rush Street Gaming and Churchill Downs Incorporated, with the latter purchasing a 62% share for a reported $326 million in March 2019.