Past And Present: Illinois Gambling Expansion
The Illinois gambling expansion bill that Gov. JB Pritzker signed in June 2019 is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks to the bill, legal sports betting in Illinois and six new retail casinos are in the future, including a casino in Chicago.
Currently, there are 10 retail casinos in Illinois, and thousands of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at truck stops, bars, etc.
Here’s what you need to know to gamble in Illinois legally.
Is gambling legal in Illinois?
Yes, Illinois law allows for retail and online sports betting, retail casino and poker games, racetrack and OTB betting, lottery and charitable gambling. In June 2019, Pritzker signed the gambling expansion bill, which consisted of the Sports Wagering Act. The bill included the:
- Legalization of sports betting in Illinois.
- Authorization of six new casino licenses.
- Addition of Chicago as one of the casino locations.
- Expansion of VGTs.
The Sports Wagering Act did not include the legalization of online casino games or online poker. However, the Internet Gaming Act was introduced on Feb. 19, 2021, which, if it passes, could bring online casino gaming to the state.
Where can I bet on sports in Illinois?
You can place sports bets online at BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, BetRivers, Barstool or Caesars sportsbooks. Currently, you must visit the online sportsbook’s retail location to finalize your new sports betting account:
|PointsBet||Hawthorne Race Course|
|PointsBet||Club Hawthorne Crestwood|
|PointsBet||Player's Pub & Grill|
|Caesars||Grand Victoria Casino|
|FanDuel||FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing|
|DraftKings||DraftKings at Casino Queen|
How much revenue does sports betting bring to Illinois?
As of October 2021, the state nears $560 billion in lifetime revenue. Illinois continues to be the No. 3 in the US when it comes to total dollar amounts wagered each month. In October 2021, Illinois posted $840.4 million in total wagers, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.
Where can I play casino games in Illinois?
- Argosy Casino, Alton
- DraftKings at Casino Queen, East St. Louis
- Grand Victoria Casino, Elgin
- Harrah’s Casino Joliet
- Harrah’s Metropolis
- Hollywood Casino, Aurora
- Hollywood Casino & Hotel, Joliet
- Bally’s Quad Cities Casino & Hotel
- Par-A-Dice Casino, East Peoria
- Rivers Casino, Des Plaines
Where can I bet on horses in Illinois?
- FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing, Collinsville
- Hawthorne Race Course, Stickney
Which Illinois regions will get a new casino?
The Sports Wagering Act allows for six new casinos to be built in designated regions. Those are:
- South Suburbs
- Williamson County
Who are the winners of the Illinois casino licenses so far?
In December 2021, the IGB chose the winning applicants of two more casino licenses: American Place Casino (Waukegan) and Wind Creek Casino Homewood/East Hazel Crest (south suburbs). The board also found both groups preliminarily suitable for a license.
Here’s a list of applicants:
- 815 Entertainment LLC (Hard Rock Casino Rockford): Rockford applicant
- CDI-RSG Waukegan LLC (Rivers Waukegan Casino): Waukegan applicant
- Full House Resorts Inc.: Waukegan applicant
- Lakeside Casino LLC (North Point Casino): Waukegan applicant
- South Suburban Development LLC: Matteson applicant
- Southland Ho-Chunk Entertainment LLC: Lynwood applicant
- Southland Live LLC (Southland Live Casino): Calumet City applicant
- Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort LLC: Williamson County applicant
- Wilmorite Management Group: Danville applicant
- Wind Creek IL LLC: Homewood/East Hazel Crest applicant
Where will the Chicago casino be located?
We don’t have that exact answer yet, but we have an idea of where city and gaming officials are looking. In January 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested five casino locations. They are:
- Michael Reese
- Pershing and State
- Roosevelt and Kostner
- US Steel
These locations are all on the south or west sides of the city. Lightfoot insists that the list is not exhaustive, and industry experts believe these would be some of the least profitable areas. They’ve pushed for a location closer to, or in the heart of downtown.
On Aug. 27, the city of Chicago issued a request for information (RFI) to solicit creative ideas for its downtown casino project. The location will directly impact revenue, according to experts, which is key here. Because a Chicago casino has the potential to drive huge profits. In the summer of 2019, a state-mandated consultant said that a centrally located casino could bring in $1.2 billion per year. That’s almost triple Illinois‘ most profitable casino right now, which is Rivers.
We don’t know how big a Chicago casino would be yet, as that’s largely dependent on location. But such a project would create thousands of jobs, provide entertainment for tourists and locals, and generate tax revenue for the state and Cook County.
How much Illinois tax revenue will new casinos create?
At full implementation, legislators project that Illinois can rake in anywhere from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion in one-time costs from bids on new casinos. That’s $200 million to $300 million per available license. After that, they predict that recurring yearly revenues from slot machines and table games would reach close to $190 million. That doesn’t account for retail sports betting, which could juice that total as well.
What about VGTs in Illinois?
There are also thousands of video gaming terminals (VGTs) scattered across the state. The bill SB 690 also helped expand video gaming in Illinois. Licensed locations are now allowed six VGTs, instead of five. The maximum bet at each machine also increased from $2 to $4. The bill increases taxes on video gaming from 30% to 33%. According to Capitol Fax, video gaming could bring in about $40 million in state tax revenue per year.
History of Illinois gaming
Considerable argument and legal wrangling preceded that first sports wager in Illinois. Discussions continued afterward as interested parties further debated how to implement sports betting in the state. Here’s a timeline starting with the present day:
Churchill Downs selected the Chicago Bears as the buyer for Arlington International Racecourse. This could have big future implications, as the Bears have one foot out of the door at Soldier Field.
Speaking of the Bears, they began their season in September with a primetime loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Finally, Jumer’s Casino & Hotel is no longer. As of September is it ‘Bally’s Quad Cities Casino & Hotel,’ and it plans to offer retail sports betting.
Illinois posted $400.4 million in sports betting handle in August, again third behind New Jersey and Nevada in the US.
Meanwhile, DraftKings Sportsbook added a Same Game Parlay feature in an effort to keep up with FanDuel in the revenue race.
The White Sox and Yankees played in the Field of Dreams Game, while the Bulls made splash moves in free agency in adding Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan.
July was a relatively slow month in Illinois, as it typically is in the sports betting industry.
DraftKings migrated over to SB Tech in the state. That gave Illinois sports bettors another option for lines, as DraftKings formerly used Kambi along with BetRivers and Barstool.
We also received May sports betting revenue numbers. Illinois cleared the $500 million threshold once again was the No. 2 sports betting state in the country.
Illinois fully reopened in June, meaning casinos and sports stadiums could hold 100% capacity. The policy impacted all 10 of the state’s casinos, retail sportsbooks and Wrigley Field/Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Illinois House of Representatives also passed a bill that would legalize in-state collegiate betting in Illinois. It would only be in-person, though, and the Senate still needs to vote on the bill before the governor can sign it into law.
Finally, the Chicago Bears submitted a bid to buy Arlington International Racecourse and made BetRivers their official sports betting partner to boot.
In May, we learned that Illinois set yet another all-time sports betting handle record. It was in March, and Illinoisans bet a whopping $633.6 million for the month.
We also learned that William Hill would eventually become Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill in Illinois. Caesars announced that it hoped to rebrand all of its US properties in time for football season.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker ended remote registration in Illinois. It was a move that was unexpected at the time and had wide-ranging effects on the industry.
We also learned that Illinoisans bet more than $200 million on March Madness alone.
Finally, the hometown Bears made a splash move, trading up for rookie QB Justin Fields. Fields should make the Bears a popular bet in 2021 and beyond.
Barstool Sportsbook launched in Illinois, becoming the sixth online offering in the Land of Lincoln.
We also learned of January revenue numbers, and Illinois produced $581.6 million in handle, an all-time record.
Finally, Illinois celebrated its first anniversary of sports betting. Illinois passed $2 billion in all-time handle in March.
In February, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) released December’s Illinois sports betting numbers, and the Prairie State set yet another record.
It posted $491.7 million in handle, inching closer to the $500 million threshold.
We also learned that Churchill Downs plans to sell Arlington International Racecourse, and there likely won’t be racing in Arlington Heights any longer.
We learned of November’s sports betting numbers in January, and Illinois posted another record total.
The Land of Lincoln took in $449.2 million in bets in November, holding steady as the US’s No. 4 sports betting state.
Gov. Pritzker also reopened all 10 Illinois casinos near the end of the month, as COVID-19 numbers continued to plummet.
And while there were no new sportsbook launches, we learned that Barstool plans to launch in time for March Madness.
Illinois’ 10 casinos remained closed for the entire month, so mobile sports betting registration also remained in place.
The soaring sports betting handle continued to be the biggest story in the industry. In December, the October sports betting figures came out, and the Land of Lincoln recorded $434.6 million in handle.
Illinois is quickly closing in on Pennsylvania to be the No. 3 sports betting market in the US.
The Ameristar Casino East Chicago also opened up a new Barstool retail sportsbook. And while the Ameristar is in Indiana, it’s only about a half-hour from downtown Chicago so that it could be a prominent retail option for Chicagoans.
Due to the COVID-19 spike in Illinois as the weather turned colder, Gov. Pritzker closed all 10 of the state’s casinos in mid-November.
They remained closed for the month and longer. Video gaming terminals were shut down in November due to the sky-high numbers.
In more positive news, the IGB released September sports betting revenue numbers. Illinois recorded $305.2 million in handle, which was easily its highest figure ever.
IL jumped into the No. 4 spot in the US and is the fastest-growing market in the country.
October was a relatively calm month by Illinois standards, but we still learned plenty about the burgeoning gaming industry in the state.
The IGB reported August revenue numbers, and they were as impressive as expected. The state posted $140 million in handle for the month, with BetRivers carving out a massive 84% market share.
Pritzker extended the mobile registration deadline again until at least Nov. 14, and it looks like that will be the policy for in the near to mid future as COVID-19 cases surge.
Finally, the IGB awarded Fairmount Park with a master sports wagering license in partnership with FanDuel. The board also found Fairmount Park ‘preliminarily suitable’ to proceed with its racino plans.
September was an eventful month for Illinois sports betting.
There was an entire month of mobile registration due to the pandemic. In mid-September, the IGB reported that 230,000 online sportsbook accounts were created in the state.
Gov. JB Pritzker extended mobile registration until at least Oct. 17.
Two online sportsbooks also launched in PointsBet and William Hill, bringing the total to five. PointsBet also struck a deal with the Chicago Bears, becoming the Bears’ first official sports betting partner. The operator announced plans to operate three off-track betting facilities in the Chicago area.
On the north side of Chicago, DraftKings and the Cubs became partners, and DraftKings will operate a retail sportsbook at Wrigley Field in the future.
In August, DraftKings launched its retail sportsbook in Illinois, as Casino Queen rebranded to DraftKings at Casino Queen.
For a while, DraftKings was retail-only. But on Aug. 21, Gov. Pritzker temporarily lifted the in-person registration requirement again, allowing DraftKings to launch its online sportsbook in Illinois. It was the second mobile product to hit the market.
FanDuel, partnering with Par-A-Dice Casino, followed shortly after that and launched its online sportsbook on Aug. 28. The executive order expires on Sept. 19, and Pritzker’s decision on whether or not to extend it could have significant industry ramifications.
And thankfully, Illinois sportsbooks were able to start offering golf events again just in time for the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields. There, Jon Rahm defeated Dustin Johnson in one of the year’s most thrilling PGA Tour events.
July began with the reopening of casinos after being closed due to the pandemic.
The next day, FanDuel followed DraftKings’ lead and announced a partnership with an Illinois land-based operator, Par-A-Dice Casino. FanDuel received a temporary operating permit as a service provider as well.
However, on July 27, Gov. Pritzker abruptly rescinded his executive order lifting the in-person restriction for registering online sportsbook accounts.
Much has happened with the original announcement of the order; there was no forewarning from Pritzker before he rescinded it. The news surprised operators. With the MLB starting its shortened season and the NBA and NHL resumed their seasons as well, at least the state’s two operating retail sportsbooks had games on which bettors could place wagers.
July ended with another bit of controversy.
Miscommunication from the IGB caused BetRivers to temporarily stop offering wagers on golf, tennis, motorsports, Korean baseball and some soccer leagues. The misunderstanding was eventually resolved, although it revealed the still uncertain nature of Illinois’ sports betting as it takes its first tentative steps.
June began with another unforeseen twist in the Illinois sports betting story.
Gov. Pritzker signed an executive order on June 8 suspending the in-person requirement to register for an online sportsbook with casinos still closed throughout the state. The Illinois Gaming Board responded that the order would apply until the IGB “issues a master sports wagering license.”
On June 11, all seven casinos with temporary operating permits received four-year sports betting licenses from the IGB. That move also started a 630-day clock for regulators to begin entertaining competitive bids for online-only licenses.
A week later, BetRivers became the first online sportsbook to go live in Illinois on June 18. Thanks to Gov. Pritzker’s executive order, the site’s first users could register for accounts online.
June ended with DraftKings partnering with Casino Queen, perhaps opening the door to DraftKings making it into Illinois with an online sportsbook sooner than later.
A seventh casino received its temporary operating permit in May:
- DraftKings at Casino Queen
While seven casinos had permits, only Rivers Casino and the Argosy Casino Alton had a provisionary status to accept sports bets.
April saw a sixth Illinois casino receive a temporary operating permit:
- Par-A-Dice Casino
Also, in April came a much anticipated judicial decision. The Illinois Supreme Court made a ruling concerning the legal status of daily fantasy sports.
In 2015, Attorney General Lisa Madigan advanced an opinion that DFS was illegal. That view impacted sports betting legislation insofar as it made “bad actors” out of DraftKings and FanDuel. The DFS sites continued to serve Illinois players despite the AG’s opinion. As a result came the “penalty box,” forcing both sites to wait 18 months before being able to apply for licenses to launch their standalone online sportsbooks in the state.
However, the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling rejected Madigan’s opinion. The judgment was that DFS games included a significant enough skill element to avoid violating state law governing games of chance.
From late 2019 onward, March Madness had emerged as a target date for launching sports betting in the state.
By early March, two more casinos received temporary operating permits:
- Hollywood Casino Aurora
- Hollywood Casino Joliet
By the end of March, the state’s racetracks applied for licenses as well, though none had been approved.
Having received provisionary status to take sports bets, Rivers Casino earned the distinction of taking the first wager on the morning of March 9 at its BetRivers Sportsbook. Three days later, the sportsbook at Argosy Casino Alton opened as well.
Alas, that was also the week the sports world took a dramatic and unexpected turn for both sportsbooks.
The night of Wednesday, March 11, the NBA announced the postponement of its season due to the coronavirus. On Thursday, March 12, the NHL did the same, the MLB canceled spring training, and the NCAA canceled all its remaining winter and spring championships, including March Madness. By the end of the weekend, practically every major sport had shut down, not just in the US but worldwide.
Sports betting was legal in Illinois, but there weren’t any sports on which to bet.
At the end of January, three casinos jumped to the front of the line to apply for sports betting licenses:
- Argosy Casino Alton
- Grand Victoria Casino Elgin
- Rivers Casino
In early February, each received temporary operating permits from the IGB.
All 10 casinos had shown interest in getting sports betting licenses. However, once it became possible to apply, some appeared less eager to do so. One reason was that the casinos continued to object to the in-person registration requirement for those wishing to open an online sportsbook account.
Meanwhile, PointsBet partnered with Hawthorne Race Course near Chicago, showing its intention to operate an online sportsbook in Illinois.
In late January 2020, the IGB approved the second phase of its emergency rules. The new guidelines included a list of factors to help judge whether charging operators to obtain official league data for in-play wagering was “commercially reasonable.”
They also clarified some other details concerning the types of sporting events for which licensees could accept wagers. Stadiums and arenas applying for licenses were required to receive authorization from the teams that play in their venues. Also, bets made in Cook County would face an additional 2% county tax.
The Illinois Gaming Board next had to create regulations for the implementation of the Sports Wagering Act. The IGB’s dissatisfaction with the legislation prompted them to include in their process a 30-day public comment period ending in late September.
Neighboring states Indiana and Iowa had both legalized sports betting just before Illinois (in May). Both states were able to finalize regulations and launch sportsbooks before the start of the 2019 NFL season. However, Illinois wasn’t going to be part of the sports betting picture for a while.
With the first phase of its Emergency Sports Wagering Rules in place in November, the IGB announced that applications for sports betting licenses would become available the following month.
On Dec. 19, regulators announced that the first phase of the application process had begun, with a second one covering operational guidelines to come early in 2020.
End of May-June (passage into law)
The casinos were pleased. DraftKings and FanDuel weren’t wholly satisfied. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was opposed to sports betting at stadiums in proximity to the new Chicago casino provided for in the gaming package.
The Illinois Gaming Board opposed the bill. Boyd Gaming and Penn National Gaming also were not in favor of its final form. Now that sports betting had folded into a larger capital bill that was likely to pass, the legislation was in a relatively secure spot.
Ultimately the House voted in favor of the capital bill 82-27, and two days later, the Senate passed it by a 46-10 margin.
Gov. Pritzker signed the bill into law on June 28, 2019, and sports betting in Illinois was legal.
End of May-June (Inclusion within capital improvements plan)
With just days before the deadline and multiple caucuses (and other entities) all continuing to voice input, the bill’s passage remained in doubt. There were more subcommittee hearings for which Sen. Rita was chair.
Rep. Zalewski had stepped aside after attention was drawn to him being a lawyer for different gambling companies and how that may constitute a conflict of interest.
Ultimately sports betting legislation (part of the larger gaming package) was included in Gov. Pritzker’s $41 billion capital improvements plan. A compromise with DraftKings and FanDuel enabled them to be part of sports betting initially but restricted them initially to operate only as partners with existing casinos.
After 18 months, three additional online-only licenses would become available, each costing $20 million to obtain. With reference to DraftKings and FanDuel, the year-and-a-half delay became known as the “penalty box” where online-only operators had to wait.
Meanwhile, casinos could obtain sports betting licenses for $10 million for four years and, thereafter, renewed annually for $1 million per year. The tax revenue rate was 15%. Among other provisions was a requirement for sportsbooks to use official league data for live betting, although there were no integrity fees.
Also of note, those wanting to use online sportsbooks would have to register their accounts in person at the partnering casino, at least for the first 18 months, after which the three online-only sportsbooks would be able to launch. Many proponents of online sports betting found that provision troublesome, as the in-person registration requirement would undoubtedly limit the amount of revenue online sportsbooks could earn.
With Gov. Pritzker voicing his support of legalizing sports betting, lawmakers began introducing legislation once more to start 2019.
Rep. Mike Zalewski put forward a placeholder bill, also called the Sports Wagering Act, and it received several hearings. The bill was also reworked several times with multiple amendments before finally being combined with other legislation. Ultimately it appeared with a larger casino expansion bill, with Rep. Bob Rita and Sen. Terry Link becoming the lead sponsors.
The legislation would allow the state’s 10 existing casinos, three racetracks, sports venues with capacities of 17,000 or more, and lottery vendors to operate retail and online sportsbooks. The bill also authorized the construction of new casinos in the state, including one in downtown Chicago.
That set the stage for a dramatic finish as the end-of-May legislative session deadline approached.
The state’s casinos weren’t happy with the combining of sports betting and the larger expansion bill.
There was debate over daily fantasy sports, with Rep. Zalewski introducing language to force DFS sites that had previously served Illinois to sit out for a period of time once new legislation was signed into law. That didn’t please DraftKings or FanDuel, as their lobbyist made known. Ultimately representatives from both companies would testify at an Illinois hearing to make their case.
Illinois lawmakers began 2018 with sports betting on the radar.
In January, Rep. Lou Lang proposed the first of five sports betting bills that year, the Legalization and Regulation of Sports Betting Act. The other four bills appeared by March, including one from Sen. Napoleon Harris, called the Sports Wagering Act.
Harris’s bill would permit retail and online sports betting, with the state receiving 12.5% of the revenue collected. Harris, a former NFL linebacker, also included a requirement for sportsbooks to pay a so-called “integrity fee” to professional sports leagues seeking such.
None of these bills made it to a vote. However, the US Supreme Court decision in May 2018 to lift the federal ban on states offering sports betting sparked interest for Illinois. The Prairie State moved to take up sports betting in earnest the following year.