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Illinois ready to get into the sports betting game

Nov 13, 2019 3:04 AM

It took 48 seconds within the first five minutes of the Illinois Gaming Board’s Nov. 7 meeting in Chicago, but administrator Marcus Fruchter said the words bettors, casinos and sportsbooks have been waiting and wanting to hear for nearly five months since sports betting was passed into law in June by Governor J.B. Pritzker:

“We expect to begin releasing applications for sports wagering and rules governing those applications in advance of the December board meeting. We are moving forward with sports wagering work … we are making some progress there and we expect to be able to share something with everyone in December barring some unforeseen circumstances.”

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And just like that, the process of establishing sports books in the Land of Lincoln is finally set to begin next month as the IGB looks to make up the lost ground and revenues to neighboring states Indiana and Iowa. Both border states have been up and running after impressive collaborative efforts on the parts of casinos, regulators and state governments within the calendar year.

One immediate takeaway of Fruchter’s announcement is it finally establishes a timeline for the “18-month penalty box” provision DraftKings and FanDuel must serve as the state moves forward. This stems from a 2015 decision by then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruling DFS operators constituted illegal gambling under state law when both companies offered play on their websites to state residents.

As legislation passed through the state legislature, Rivers Casino had lobbied for a three-year ban for the two online sites before Pritzker helped broker a compromise at 18 months. Once the ban ends, the two online sports betting giants can then apply for a license that comes with a hefty $20 million price tag.

Casinos, racetracks, and sports venues with seating capacities of 17,000 or more — Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, United Center, and AllState Arena — can all apply for a license at $10 million and have sports betting on the stadium grounds or within a five-block radius. It is believed all three racetracks will apply for sports betting licenses, though there is uncertainty whether Arlington will actually house sports betting considering Churchill Downs Inc., which opted not to seek a casino license in October and has not committed to racing there beyond 2021.

The license fees dwarf those of neighboring states Iowa and Indiana — Iowa has a $45,000 fee with an annual $10,000 to renew, while Indiana’s licenses cost $75,000 with a $5,000 annual renewal. There also is no timetable established for processing a license once submitted, though Illinois state law stipulates the IGB has a year to consider an application.

While time is of the essence being able to place bets on major sporting events including the Super Bowl in the first weekend of February and the NCAA Tournament in March, Illinois may not have to process applications at a break-neck pace because of the potential revenue Chicago can create as the third-largest city in the country.

Indirectly, Indiana has proven there is an appetite for sports betting in Illinois since many Chicagoland area residents made the short trek east across the state line. The two casinos closest to the border — the Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar East — were the top two casinos in Indiana for wagering and accounted for more than 40 percent of the state’s $35 million handle in September. 

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