Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) Administrator Marcus Fruchter announced on Wednesday that three operators applied for an online-only sports betting license.
A fourth tried to apply but missed the application deadline by 13 minutes. There are only three mobile-only licenses up for grabs.
These companies are anonymous, but the mere act of applying is key. Once the IGB issues an online-only license, it terminates the Sports Wagering Act clause mandating in-person registration.
HB 3136, which is on Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk, also gives a March 5, 2022, end date for in-person registration. So assuming Pritzker signs the bill, online sportsbook registration in Illinois will return on March 5 — or sooner, if the IGB issues a mobile-only license before then.
The news came on the same day that the IGB reported its highest sports wagering month of all time. The Land of Lincoln took in $840.4 million in October sports bets, clearing the previous highwater mark by more than $200 million. A $1 billion month is in clear reach.
And the best appears to be yet to come. Let’s reset the Illinois sports betting market and put Wednesday’s online-only application news into context.
Will IGB issue an online license before March 5?
Here’s what the Sports Wagering Act says about the timeline of online-only licenses:
“Applications for the initial competitive selection occurring after the effective date of this Act shall be received by the Board within 540 days after the first license is issued under this Act to qualify. The Board shall announce the winning bidders for the initial competitive selection within 630 days after the first license is issued under this Act, and this time frame may be extended at the discretion of the Board.”
The 540-day mark was on Dec. 3, when applications were due. That puts the 630-day mark at March 3, very close to (not a coincidence) March 5.
The law also does not state that the IGB needs to issue the license within those 630 days; it just has to announce the winning bidders. Therefore, it seems that March 5 will come before an online-only license is issued — unless the IGB moves at a quicker pace than it has in the past.
$20 million price tag was not too hefty for operators
Previously, there was concern that the $20 million price tag for a mobile-only license would scare off operators. Ultimately, that was not the case.
Illinois cleared $800 million in October handle with just six online sportsbooks. That’s way less than most comparable markets, and operators likely concluded that the upfront fee was worth it in the long run.
IL should have a double-digit number of sportsbooks by the end of 2022. We don’t know which sportsbooks applied yet, and the possibilities are really endless.
We know that the likes of BetMGM, Bally Bet, Unibet, theScore Bet, Golden Nugget and WynnBET are interested in joining the Illinois sports betting market. These companies either have current or future land-based market access.
The three applicants may be on that list. It’s also possible that they are not because, with the online-only license, market access is unnecessary.
There’s a real chance we will see some wildcard names pop up once the IGB announces the applicants.
A $1 billion March is in play for Illinois sportsbooks
Online registration will almost certainly be back in time for March Madness. And based on the robust October numbers, there is a legitimate reason to think that Illinois could clear $1 billion in March handle.
Previously, March 2021 was the Prairie State’s high handle mark at $633.6 million. From October 2020 to October 2021, handle nearly doubled.
March is a very popular betting month to begin with, but there are a bunch of factors working in Illinois’ favor.
Once in-person registration goes away, there is likely a good chunk of people who want to sign up for currently live online sportsbooks but haven’t wanted to go to a retail sportsbook in order to do so.
And if the IGB acts in a timely matter, there should be several new sportsbook launches in March. That means bonuses and sign-up offers will be flying, which always juices handle.
While the process to get to this point has been anything other than smooth, the future is extremely bright for Illinois sports betting.