Will Restrictions Return? Illinois Casinos, Sports Venues Could Feel Brunt Of Latest COVID-19 Wave

Written By Joe Boozell on July 27, 2021
illinois mask mandate questions

COVID-19 cases are rising in Illinois. Over the last week, the state is averaging 1,294 new infections per day. That’s 1,000 more cases per day than at the start of July, per the Chicago Tribune. Hospitalizations statewide are also increasing.

The delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread in the US, driving a surge in many states.

Of course, rising cases have forced shutdowns or capacity restrictions for many businesses since 2020, including casinos and sports venues. Between March 2020 and June 2021, Illinois casinos were either closed or only partially open.

There’s a key difference between now and then, though. COVID-19 vaccines are fully available for the adult population, and even half of Illinoisans between the ages of 12 and 17 are vaccinated.

Illinois is the first state in the Midwest to reach that mark. However, only 56.2% of eligible people in the state are fully vaccinated.

The Prairie State is now fully open and doesn’t have a mask mandate. Could either of those things change? And, if so, how could they affect the state’s gaming industry?

New guidelines could impact in-person sports betting registration, casino capacities and stadium capacities.

Let’s break it down.

Lightfoot warns of new restrictions in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently told the New York Times that she will consider reinstating a mask mandate and other restrictions if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

Lightfoot said she would consider new guidelines if new COVID-19 cases jump above 200 per day. Currently, Chicago is averaging about 165 new cases per day.

That would be significant news for Chicagoans. With that said, it’s worth noting for the purposes of this discussion that there aren’t any casinos in Chicago, and Illinois guidelines are more important than Chicago guidelines.

When asked whether statewide restrictions could return, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s office gave the following statement:

“(Gov. Pritzker) continues to listen to the advice of scientists and doctors as he considers all possible avenues to keep the people of Illinois safe.

“During the previous pandemic surges, (Pritzker) was laser focused on ensuring that our health care system and hospitals weren’t overwhelmed and that will continue to be his guiding light as he evaluates the need for mitigations.”

As for stadiums, new Chicago restrictions would play more of a role. Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field have reopened at full capacity, and Soldier Field is planning to do the same.

One would expect new restrictions to be politically unpopular. Lightfoot’s comments come as Chicago plans to host Lollapalooza this weekend, an event that hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend.

Is there any chance Illinois returns to online registration?

Pritzker brought in-person sports betting registration back in early April, and Illinois casinos reopened at 100% capacity on June 11.

Those dates are key. If we see COVID-19 restrictions in IL once again, those dates tell us what to expect first. Or what not to expect.

It’s more likely that casinos would have to reduce operations to 50% or 60% capacity before Pritzker would bring back online registration. He ended online registration around the same time vaccines became available to all Illinois adults.

Mask mandates would probably return before either. The CDC reversed its mask guidelines on Tuesday, and recommends that masks be worn indoors in high-transmission areas.

Meanwhile, Illinois didn’t move to Phase 5 of its reopening plan until a few months later.

In other words, the delta variant would likely have to become extremely problematic in order for Pritzker to suspend in-person registration. Mask mandates and capacity limits have a higher probability.

Even so, that doesn’t mean either of those is likely to happen, either. Based on the Pritzker administration’s statement, hospitalizations are a more salient metric than new cases, thanks to vaccines.

Illinois is considering mandating vaccines for state employees. However, there has been no traction for “vaccine passports” for the general population.

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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