All Illinois gambling operations have been suspended since March 16 and will remain suspended “until further notice” in accordance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s guidelines.
Illinois Casino Gaming Association executive director Tom Swoik estimates that the state’s 10 casinos have lost $100 million during the shutdown, while 5,000 employees are out of work. Illinois’ official stay-at-home order runs through the end of May, but Swoik is hopeful gambling operations can resume on June 1 – though likely in a limited capacity.
“The Gaming Board will continue to review current public health guidance and conditions to determine when and under what conditions statewide video gaming and casino gambling can safely resume,” Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter told the Chicago Sun-Times.
A different world for Illinois casinos
Even if gambling operations are allowed to resume on June 1, it won’t look or feel the same as it did before COVID-19. New casino sanitation criteria may include sneeze guards between spaced-out slot machines, limiting table games to two or three players, and not allowing players to touch cards, according to Swoik. Chips would be continually sanitized.
“It’ll take several months to see people feeling comfortable to start going back. Everyone’s going to be very, very cautious,” he said.
Sports betting just getting off the ground
Illinois casinos took home nearly $115 million in April 2019 – and that figure likely would have been higher in April 2020 without COVID-19 if you factor in sports betting.
Which is why the timing was particularly brutal for the Illinois sports betting industry, still in its infancy stage. Rivers Casino in Des Plaines opened up Illinois’ first sportsbook on March 9 – by March 15, it had suspended its operations. The March 9 opening was the culmination of a long process in Illinois, but it was ready to go in time for March Madness, the largest sports betting event in the US. The Argosy Casino Alton was gearing up to be the second sportsbook opened in Illinois in March, but that never happened. Regulators were evaluating five new casino applicants at the time of the shutdown.
So what’s next? As mentioned above, if casinos are allowed to reopen on June 1 or shortly thereafter, you’ll likely see a socially distanced, modified experience.
Sports calendar remains up in the air
Sports betting depends on, well, when sports will return. And despite the launch of one brick-and-mortar sportsbook and the imminent launch of another, Illinois still doesn’t have any legal mobile options – those should be available later in 2020. So as it stands now, it looks like the first legal post-pandemic bets will need to be placed in person.
Baseball has the most concrete plans to return of any sport to date. MLB expects to offer a return-to-play proposal to the MLB Players Association within a week, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Teams have reportedly begun to encourage players to be ready for Spring Training by mid-June in preparation for an early July regular season start, though significant hurdles remain.
The NBA’s timeline isn’t as certain. Some teams are reopening their practice facilities, depending on state respective state guidelines. The “bubble” idea has commonly been floated – the idea of isolating NBA players in a hotel so the league could resume its season – but it’s not without concerns. All reports indicate that there is a strong desire among all parties for the NBA to finish its season, but a plan or timeline is unclear.
The NFL plans to play its season as scheduled, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he is “prepared to adjust.” The PGA Championship is scheduled for early August, while the Kentucky Derby was moved to early September. There’s been no word on a plan for college sports’ return.
If the MLB is able to execute its early July plan, hopefully the NBA and NHL can follow suit. We’ll provide updates as the situation unfolds.