Hard Rock, Betway Sportsbooks On Runway To Launch In Illinois

Written By Dave Briggs on July 27, 2023 - Last Updated on June 4, 2024
Preparing for Illinois launch

Two new names — Hard Rock and Betway — appear poised to join the lucrative Illinois sports betting market. That was the biggest news out of Thursday’s regularly-scheduled Illinois Gaming Board meeting.

The IGB approved Hard Rock for a four-year retail and online Illinois sports betting license in conjunction with the Hard Rock Rockford casino.

The gaming regulator also announced the parent company of Betway as the lone “winning bidder” of a process to determine the suitability of up to three online-only sports betting license slots.

Hard Rock likely to launch Illinois sports betting first

Of the two operators, Hard Rock is likely to launch an Illinois sportsbook first.

While it is now technically licensed to offer sports betting in the state, it is not yet passed regulatory inspections that would approve it for wagering.

IGB administrator Marcus Fruchter said the Hard Rock’s sports betting license has been made retroactive to January 2023 to “align with the month of its casino license issuance and forthcoming renewal to expire in January 2027.” That seems to indicate the Hard Rock sportsbook launch is somewhat imminent.

Hard Rock and Circa will be the 8th and 9th Illinois sportsbooks

And, all this appears to put Hard Rock in the same category as Circa Sportsbook, which has been licensed as part of its tether with The Temporary Full House Resorts casino in Waukegan.

Circa had hoped to pass regulatory approval checks and launch before the start of the NFL season. But Jeff Benson, Circa’s director of operations, told PlayIllinois this week that launch will be “hopefully [in] the back half of September.”

Once both Hard Rock and Circa launch, they will be the eighth and ninth legal sportsbooks in the second biggest sports betting state in the nation.

Betway has longer runway to launch

The road to launch appears longer for Betway.

Concerning the online-only sports betting licenses that do not require a tether with a casino, Fruchter said during the meeting:

“Importantly, being found qualified and identified as the winning bidder is neither a finding of suitability nor a grant of licensure. It is simply a finding, based on information presently known by the gaming board, that the applicant and its key persons meet the minimum suitability criteria in the Act.

“A winning bidder deemed suitable following the IGB’s investigation could then become licensed upon board approval and payment of the $20 million statutory licensing fee.”

This is the second round of the approval process for online-only sports betting licenses. The first round did not lead to any suitable candidates.

Wait, didn’t Betway pull out of the online-only sportsbook race?

Betway was one of the original four applicants for an online-only license. But it withdrew its application not long after submitting it. No explanation was made publicly.

That’s why Betway was omitted from a PlayIllinois analysis of which operators might be applying for an online-only license.

Our guess was bet365 was a big enough operator to try for an online-only license that costs $20 million. bet365’s name failed to surface Thursday. But the IGB did say there were two operators that applied, but one subsequently withdrew. The regulator did not name the operator that withdrew. But Fruchter did say another round of applications might be possible.

Betway currently operates legal sportsbooks in eight states. It also has online casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Online casinos are not, yet, legal in Illinois.

If Betway does indeed launch in Illinois, it would be the 11th sports betting operator. There has long been seven in the state.

A fourth sportsbook new to Illinois is also on the horizon. But its arrival won’t increase the overall number of operators.

Recently, Fanatics completed a deal to buy PointsBet’s US operations. If approved by the IGB, Fanatics is expected to take over the PointsBet Illinois sportsbook sometime in 2024.

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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in North America with an emphasis on the casino, sports betting, horse racing and poker sectors. He is currently reporting on the gaming industries in Illinois and Canada.

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