Golden Nugget Says It’s Coming To Illinois This Year, But Is That Realistic?

Posted By Joe Boozell on May 18, 2021

Golden Nugget president Thomas Winter said during an earnings call this week that the gaming company plans to launch “online sports in Illinois” in the fourth quarter of 2021.

We’ve known Golden Nugget is interested in the Illinois market ever since it inked a market access deal with Danville Development. If and when the Danville casino is built, it will have the necessary branding.

But while bettors would love another sports betting app in Illinois, some key factors are working against Winter’s preferred launch timeline.

Let’s get into them.

No Illinois sports betting market access

Golden Nugget should eventually have sports betting market access through the future Danville casino. However, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has not approved the Danville project.

Golden Nugget and Danville sent in their application materials in November 2020, but the IGB still hasn’t handed out any licenses to applicants who applied back in October 2019.

In other words, it could be a while before the IGB approves the Danville casino. And that’s not even factoring construction time.

Therefore, it is unclear how Golden Nugget plans to secure market access any time soon.

Unless …

Will Golden Nugget pay for a mobile-only license?

Is it possible that Golden Nugget will pony up the $20 million necessary for a mobile-only license? The application process for those licenses will open in December.

If that’s the case, the IGB likely won’t hand out any licenses until 2022, based on the language in the law. December is only when the application process begins.

At the moment, it appears to be Golden Nugget’s quickest path into the market unless a new market access deal is in the works.

If Golden Nugget pays for the mobile-only license, that’s great news for the rest of the Illinois sports betting operators, by the way. The mobile-only license will trigger the removal of in-person registration for everyone.

Golden Nugget Sportsbook in Illinois a long, long ways away

As of now, Golden Nugget Sportsbook has yet to apply for a sports betting license in Illinois.

There are currently two pending Illinois applicants: BetMGM and Unibet. BetMGM applied in September, while Unibet applied in November.

We haven’t heard a peep from the IGB regarding their application status since then. So, if Golden Nugget is expecting the IGB to act promptly, the operator is in for a rude awakening.

Based on Winter’s optimistic timeline, though, it would make sense for one of two things to happen.

Either Golden Nugget has another market access deal coming, or is looking to pounce on a mobile-only license once it becomes available. If we don’t hear any news on the former in the next few months, it is likely the latter.

PlayIllinois attempted to reach a Golden Nugget representative for comment.

As it stands now, using the theoretical Danville casino for sports betting market access by the end of 2021 is a pipe dream. A third (and unflattering) scenario, frankly, is a lack of awareness of the Illinois landscape.

Mayor ‘praying’ for Danville casino progress

Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said earlier this month that he’s “praying and keeping (his) fingers crossed” that the city will have more information about its casino in July.

There will be IGB meetings on June 9 and July 14. Those meetings are where the board typically gives casino updates.

As previously mentioned, news has been sparse over the last two years. The IGB found Hard Rock Casino Rockfordpreliminarily suitable” for a license in February but has yet to officially hand out a license stemming from its 2019 Illinois gaming expansion.

In fact, several applicants who applied well before Danville still haven’t received a ruling. That’s why it’s hard to imagine learning about Danville casino progress from the IGB any time soon.

Photo by Wayne Parry / 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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