Pritzker Expects Sportsbooks To Start Taking Action In Time For March Madness

Posted on February 19, 2020

Although it’s still unofficial, another indicator that Prairie State sportsbooks could be up and running next month has surfaced. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker expects residents of his state to be able to place wagers on this year’s NCAA DI basketball championship tournaments.

March Madness is set to begin on Tuesday, March 17, on the men’s side with the women getting going three days later. Even if the sportsbooks are up and running in time, however, Illinoisans may not be able to wager on their favorite teams.

Illinois governor sets an expectation for sportsbooks

Pritzker’s press secretary issued a statement about the timeline for legal sports betting last week. The release contained a line pertinent to the issue on everyone’s mind.

The Governor is pleased that Illinois sportsbooks will open for business by March Madness, generating revenue to rebuild universities, hospitals and other facilities across the state

March Madness goes on for weeks from mid-March through early April, so it’s no sure thing that St. Patrick’s Day will be an especially lucky day for legal sportsbooks in the state this year. They could go live later and still technically go live during the event.

Pritzker’s statement applies pressure to the parties involved. If the tournaments come and go without sportsbooks in operation, it could be embarrassing for the governor.

Fortunately for Pritzker, his interests align with the sportsbooks’. March Madness is one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

Residents of and visitors to the Land of Lincoln should expect the sportsbooks to do all they can to get up and running in time. The opportunity is too great to pass up.

Unfortunately, state law will limit that opportunity. The regulatory framework for legal sports betting in Illinois contains two flaws.

The two issues that will limit sportsbooks’ success

One of these issues could become apparent immediately in Illinois. The University of Illinois men’s basketball team could qualify for the field of 68 this year.

Fans of the Fighting Illini will be disappointed if they head over to a legal sportsbook to place a bet on their favorite team’s fate, however. Illinois law doesn’t allow legal books to take action on in-state college/university teams.

For Illinois sportsbooks, that means they could continue to lose action to legal operators in Indiana and Iowa. Indiana has no restrictions of any kind on college teams while Iowa’s only limitation is for in-game wagers on individual athletes’ performances.

That isn’t the only limitation that could come into play next month, however. Illinois also has a temporary in-person registration requirement for online wagering.

Before bettors can place wagers online, they have to visit the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks affiliated with the online brand of choice. The requirement is billed as a security measure, but it’s really more of a device to ensure casinos get their cut of the action.

In Illinois, that requirement doesn’t sunset until the state approves its first standalone online sportsbook licensee. The state can’t do that until 420 days after the retail books open, however.

Because of that, the in-person requirement will likely last for years. That’s a problem because it will limit the number of people who use legal channels to place bets.

For those determined to use legal channels regardless, it’s important to know where the brick-and-mortar books are. Some of that information is available now.

Where the first legal sportsbooks could be in Illinois

Currently, the state has only licensed three operators. Although it’s possible that number might expand over the next few weeks, these are the starting trio for now:

  • Argosy Casino in Alton
  • Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin
  • Rivers Casino in Des Plaines

Neither the Argosy nor the Grand Victoria has announced whether it will “farm out” its sportsbook operations or build out its own platforms. Rivers has its own that operates in other states already.

Because of that, BetRivers could be the first online sportsbook brand in the state. There’s no guarantee that it will be available at the same time as the retail book, however.

Online sports betting applications take longer to get to market, partially because there’s more that state agencies inspect for compliance. In most of the states with legal sportsbooks up and running right now, online books have launched after their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Although it may be just on the retail side, it looks as if sportsbooks in Illinois will be live sometime next month. If that isn’t the case, Pritzker will be among those disappointed.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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