Big Zero: Big Ten’s Pending Decision To Cancel Football Will Affect IL Sportsbooks

Posted on August 10, 2020 - Last Updated on August 16, 2020

On Friday, the Big Ten was going to play 10 conference football games in 2020. Now, the Big Ten college football season may likely have a new total of games for 2020: zero.

The conference is expected to announce the cancellation of fall sports on Tuesday. It’s hard to quantify what that will mean exactly for sportsbooks in Illinois in terms of betting handle. Other consequences are more clear.

Why it’s hard to evaluate the worth of Big Ten college football to IL sportsbooks

The primary reason it’s difficult to ascertain the value of handle on Big Ten college football is that there is no historical data on the subject. This year was going to be the first with legal sportsbooks operating in IL.

Another mitigating factor is IL law on the subject. Legal sportsbooks in the Prairie State can’t accept wagers on contests involving in-state college teams. So, no betting on Northwestern or the University of Illinois.

It’s uncertain how much that restriction would have hindered handle this fall, however. The most popular Big Ten teams for wagering purposes, like Michigan and Ohio State, aren’t in IL.

Sportsbooks already prepared for a diminished return this fall from college football when the conference announced it would only play intra-conference games. That meant the loss of several preseason highlights like Michigan-Washington and Ohio State-Oregon.

The complete absence of any Big Ten football further tempers those expectations. That means sportsbooks like BetRivers and DraftKings need to adjust their game plans for this fall even more.

Other categories become more crucial for IL sportsbooks

With no Big Ten football, other sporting events that normally occupy the same months become of even greater importance to IL sportsbooks. That especially goes for the NFL.

The NFL is sports betting’s cash cow in the US, accounting for more handle than any other professional sports league in nearly every market. That will likely be the case in Illinois as well, especially since there’s an NFL team within the state’s borders.

The NFL would be the best alternative for bettors who normally wager on Big Ten football. For that reason, it’s even more important for sportsbooks in Illinois that the approaching NFL season takes place to as great of an extent as possible.

To demonstrate the value of football for sportsbooks, Indiana sports betting numbers are useful. In the first month with online sportsbooks operating in the Hoosier State, the statewide handle in October 2019 surpassed $91 million.

At that point, the online sports betting options were limited and the few brands that were operating were new to Indiana. The power of football helped them overcome those obstacles, however, putting the second month of sports betting in IN on par with the same month in New Jersey sports betting history.

Fortunately for IL sportsbooks, it doesn’t look like the NFL is considering canceling regular-season games so far. A start to the next NBA and NHL seasons would also aid sportsbooks in recouping the handle they will lose from the absence of Big Ten football.

Right now, it’s difficult to tell how much handle this will cost Illinois sportsbooks. If the circumstances that have led to this decision also affect the NFL, it could be a lean fall.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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