Handicapping which Illinois sportsbooks are coming next to the state is a bit of a tricky exercise.
After all, there are some very good reasons the number of sportsbook operators has stalled at seven in Illinois when other jurisdictions have many more options.
Yet, Illinois has a lot to offer prospective operators. That includes a sports-savvy populace of some 12.5 million that has made the Prairie State the second biggest jurisdiction in the United States in terms of sportsbook revenue and third biggest in handle.
And there are at least 14 slots open for new IL sportsbooks, many tied to retail Illinois casinos. So, the options for entry into the market are far from limited.
Our odds for which Illinois sportsbook operators are coming next
Which sportsbooks are most likely to come to Illinois? PlayIllinois currently pegs the odds as follows:
- Circa — 2-1. The Nevada brand already has a deal with Full House’s American Place Casino in Waukegan. A temporary casino is expected to open in December. That is when Circa is expected to become the eighth live Illinois sportsbook operator, pending Illinois Gaming Board approval.
- Bally Bet — 3-1. Bally’s has two obvious options to tether its online sportsbook to one of its retail casino sites: Its existing Bally’s Quad City Casino and Hotel in Rock Island or its Bally’s Chicago mega-casino. In September, Bally’s applied to the IGB for a sportsbook license. So, there’s an obvious interest and intent.
- bet365 — 5-1. European gaming giant bet365 is big enough to have a chance to gain enough market share in Illinois to justify the cost of entry. bet365 is currently one of the most successful operators in Ontario’s crowded regulated market (39 operators and counting). bet365 also operates in New York, New Jersey and Colorado.
- WynnBet — 6-1. In November 2021, WynnBet applied to the IGB for a Management Services Provider license, which is needed for an operator to offer mobile wagering in the state. WynnBet operates in nine US states, but there has been little news lately on its plans for Illinois.
- Unibet — 7-1 Originally thought to be partnered with the Argosy Casino in Alton, there has been little news, lately, about Unibet coming to Illinois. But, the European giant has applied to the IGB for a license. So, at least we know they are serious about coming to the state. Unibet currently operates in Ontario, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Iowa and Indiana.
Other sportsbooks possibly eying Illinois
Other operators that could enter Illinois include:
- Hard Rock — 8-1. There’s been little direct mention of Hard Rock opening its own online sportsbook in Illinois. But, it has applied to the IGB to run one. And Hard Rock does have a retail casino in Rockford — a temporary one for now — that does not, yet, have a sportsbook partner. It would make sense as an easy point of entry. Hard Rock operates online sportsbooks in six states.
- Fanatics — 9-1. Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin announced at the CAA World Congress of Sports in New York that, by January 2023, the leading sports merchandiser plans to launch sports betting in every major US state except New York. By definition, that would have to include Illinois to fulfill those ambitious plans. But Fanatics has not, yet, announced anything concrete about coming to the Prairie State.
- Golden Nugget — 10-1. There’s been no word if Golden Nugget wants to have its own online sportsbook in Illinois, but it does have a retail casino coming in Danville. So, entering the market via that facility makes some sense. Golden Nugget operates an online sportsbook in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia and West Virginia.
- Pinnacle — 12-1. The black-market operator has gone legit in Ontario, but nowhere else in North America, yet. Is Ontario a prelude to an entrance into Illinois? No idea, but the popularity of Pinnacle with some bettors gives them a shot to grab enough market share in Illinois if they do decide to try. Pinnacle is popular with many bettors because it tends to offer better odds instead of bonuses, credits and inducements. Pinnacle also markets itself as welcoming winners and not banning users that cash too often.
Longshots to come to the Prairie State
These operators are longshots to come to Illinios:
- Betr — 15-1. Billed as the world’s first micro-betting sportsbook, Betr offers a unique selling proposition that could make entry into Illinois viable. Betr allows betting on individual moments in a game not related to the final score (i.e. balls and strikes in a baseball game). Though, there’s been no word that the Joey Levy/Jake Paul-backed sportsbook is eying Illinois, Betr announced last week that it has found a way into the Indiana market. Previously, it announced it will launch in Ohio when that state’s market opens on Jan, 1 2023. So, Illinois would also make sense.
- Prophet Exchange — 25-1. Like Betr, New Jersey-based Prophet Exchange offers a unique selling position — in their case, a betting exchange. A betting exchange is a marketplace that allows bettors to wager against each other at lower fees. Prophet Exchange has not indicated it wants in on the action in Illinois, but it certainly would be remiss not to consider the Prairie State.
- Fox Bet — 25-1. There’s no word that Fox Bet is looking at Illinois with any seriousness. But it is operating in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So, it’s not crazy that it would consider Illinois.
- theScore Bet — 100-1. theScore Bet is owned by Penn National, which has retail casinos in Joliet and Aurora. theScore was previously linked to Joliet facility. But, Penn has announced it is sticking with Barstool Sports as its sportsbook brand in the US. theScore Bet will continue to operate in Canada and is expected to provide proprietary trading technology to Barstool in 2023. So, coming to Illinois as a brand is extremely unlikely, but never say never.
There are still many avenues to enter the Illinois sports betting market.
Seven existing Illinois sportsbooks and how they got there
Of the 11 operating retail Illinois casinos, only five have licensed online sportsbook partners:
- Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has partnered with BetRivers
- DraftKings at Casino Queen in East St. Louis with DraftKings
- Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin with Caesars
- Hollywood Casino Aurora with Barstool
- Par-a-Dice Hotel Casino in East Peoria with BetMGM online (and FanDuel retail).
Further, the state’s two operating horse racetracks — Hawthorne and the former Fairmount Park — are allowed to have online sportsbook partnerships, as opposed to licensed OSBs. Fairmount has partnered with FanDuel (and the track is now called FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing). Hawthorne has partnered with PointsBet.
That’s how we arrived at seven Illinois sports betting operators.
At least 14 Illinois sportsbook slots remain open
That leaves at least 14 open slots for an Illinois online sportsbook to enter the market and possibly a few more than that:
- Six via a tether with an existing licensed retail casino
- Five via a tether with new casino applicants
- Three via online-only sportsbook licenses
- Maybe as many as four connected to pro sports facilities (The Fanduel Sports Lounge at the United Center is already open, but needs approval to begin taking bets. A DraftKings Sportsbook at Wrigley Field is under construction and expected to open in 2023).
There are six open slots for an Illinois online sportsbook to enter the market via a tether with the following licensed retail casinos:
- Harrah’s Casino Joliet
- Hollywood Casino Joliet was originally thought to be partnering with theScore Bet, but theScore Bet has since left the US market.0
- Argosy Casino Alton was originally thought to be tied to Unibet.
- Harrah’s Metropolis Casino
- Hard Rock Rockford Casino (a temporary casino is now open while construction has begun on a permanent site)
- Bally’s Quad City Casino and Hotel in Rock Island
And there are a further five open slots for a sportsbook operator to partner with new Illinois casino applicants:
- American Place Casino in Waukegan already has a deal with Circa
- Bally’s Chicago (where a major casino is to be built in the Chicago Tribune printing plant) is expected to be the tether for a Bally’s sportsbook. Though Bally’s could also tether its online sportsbook with its Rock Island casino.
- Golden Nugget Danville
- Walker’s Bluff Casino in Williamson County
- Wind Creek Chicago Southland in Homewood
Online-only license slots re-opened
Then, there are three online-only sportsbook licenses available that do not require a tether to a retail casino. But, they do cost $20 million for a license.
Price clearly has been a disincentive to entry. Currently, there are no applicants for an online-only license. The Illinois Gaming Board just reopened those slots for bids as of Nov. 1. The window for bids closes on March 1, 2023.
When the IGB first made online-only licenses available in August 2021, only four relatively-weak operators applied.
The IGB rejected Malta-based sportsbook operator Tipico for missing the December 2021 deadline.
Florida company Digital Gaming withdrew its application after filing.
Fubo Gaming took a shot, but was told by the IGB that it “did not meet the minimum qualifications and was disqualified.” Probably best since Fubo Gaming announced on Oct. 17 that it was ceasing operations.
The only nearly-successful applicant was Tekkorp, an investment group connected to one of Mexico’s leading gaming companies, Caliente. But Tekkorp announced in October that it was no longer pursing a sportsbook license in Illinois.
Why operators are reluctant to enter Illinois
Though Illinois provides plenty of opportunities for sportsbooks to enter the market, there are plenty of major disincentives.
The cost of a license is at or near the top of the list.
The cost to add a sportsbook for the original retail casino license holders was 5% of adjusted gross receipts — or a percentage of handle in the case of the two horse racing tracks. The actual price ranged from about $2.3 million to $10 million.
For any new casino or track, it’s still based on a percentage, but the minimum cost is $5 million.
A license to operate a sportsbook at a professional sports facility costs $10 million. And the rights to operate an online sportsbook only apply to the blocks immediately surrounding that facility. So, those locations have limited value beyond marketing exposure.
As mentioned previously, the cost of an online-only sportsbook license is $20 million.
Given the major players already in the market, it’s a lot to ask to pay even a minimum of $5 million to enter, especially since sports betting has thin margins. Any new Illinois operator would need huge market share to make it work and that will be tough up against FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, PointsBet, BetRivers, Caesars and Barstool.
Besides, those already in the market are not keen on having more competition and are likely funding lobbying efforts to keep the number of Illinois sportsbook operators at — or near — to where it is now.
No online casinos a further disincentive
Then there’s the big issue: Illinois currently doesn’t allow the real money makers: online casinos.
That likely explains why the regions that do offer online casinos — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ontario most notable among them — have many more operators than Illinois. Ontario currently has 39, New Jersey has 33, Michigan has 15 and Pennsylvania has 14.
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability estimated in its Wagering in Illinois 2021 update that if online casinos had been available when retail casinos were shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic:
“Adjusted gross revenue (taxable base) totals of between $622 million and $1.249 billion could have been generated. These figures were based on the revenue results of those states with online casinos.
“Based on the directed rates of 12% to 16%, tax revenues could have ranged between $75 million and $200 million during this specific pandemic time period. It must be stressed, however, that revenues generated during a pandemic are likely higher than typical as other gaming/spending options would emerge once virus concerns wane.”
So, clearly Illinois believes online casinos would be a big money-maker.
In Illinois, video gaming terminals are king
But, don’t forget, Illinois also has the most lucrative video gaming terminal market in the entire country, if not the world. There are some 44,000 VGT units in about 8,200 locations in Illinois. The revenue from them far outstrips revenue from casinos in Illinois.
As Illinois lobbyist Steve Brubaker told PlayIllinois:
“The VGT guys are the number one producers of revenue to the state of Illinois. And by far, almost double, and so an online casino product would directly compete with the bars and restaurants. And when you do that, you get pushback not just from the VGT companies, but from all those local restaurants and bars and mayors that the legislator is dependent on for getting reelected.
“So that’s the nut you have to figure out. What can we give the VGT operators… to get them to support online casino? More importantly, what can we give the mayors and the bar owners and the restaurant owners in those in those legislative districts to buy them in?”
That makes online casinos in Illinois unlikely in the short-term, which makes the addition of more online operators just running sportsbooks less likely.
Unless the rules change, it’s going to require an awfully big operator with awfully big pockets to want to come to Illinois.