Illinois To Blow Out Candles On Adventurous First Year Of Sports Betting

Posted By Joe Boozell on March 8, 2021

It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of legal sports betting in Illinois.

Retired Chicago Blackhawk Eddie Olczyk placed the first sports wager at Rivers Casino on March 9, 2020.

“Crazy to think it’s been a full year already, right?” PointsBet Communications Director Patrick Eichner said.

Indeed it is. And to say it’s been eventful would be an understatement.

Illinois casinos shut down about a week after Olczyk’s opening bet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no online betting apps in IL at the time (and very few sports), there would be no sports betting in Illinois for months.

Fast-forward to now, and Illinois is the No. 4 sports betting market in the US, with room to grow.

So, how did we get here? Let’s take a look back at Illinois sports betting’s first year.

This isn’t how the Illinois sports betting market was supposed to unfold

If you recall, there was supposed to be an in-person sports betting registration requirement for the first 18 months in Illinois.

COVID-19 had other plans. Gov. JB Pritzker lifted the requirement in June, allowing people to sign up for sports betting accounts online.

The problem? There were no online sportsbooks at the time in Illinois, but BetRivers changed that on June 18.

That gave the BetRivers Sportsbook app a massive head start over competitors, and it took advantage, carving out an 84% market share in August.

In a surprising move, Pritzker reinstated in-person registration in late July. But that proved to be a blip, as he reversed course in late August.

It was a confusing time for Illinois customers and prospective operators alike.

“It may sound like coach-speak, but we really just have to control what we can control,” Eichner said. “We pride ourselves on being nimble and ready to adjust to whatever the situation calls for, and that’s especially important in Illinois.”

Fast-forward to now, and we haven’t returned to in-person registration since August.

That’s helped pave the way for a robust Illinois sports betting market.

Illinois has taken almost $2 billion in wagers

Illinois only trails New Jersey, Nevada and Pennsylvania for sports wagering handle on a monthly basis. And it’s by far the youngest market of those states.

In December, Illinois took in $491.7 million worth of bets. That was a record, and the market should eclipse $500 million when the January report from the Illinois Gaming Board comes out.

Sports betting has also generated $125.5 million in taxable revenue, which comes out to $20.2 million in state and local taxes.

In the fall, each Illinois revenue report release would routinely earn “oohs” and “aahs” on Twitter, given how rapidly handle grew.

Here were the first several months of sports betting handle in Illinois:

  • July 2020: $52.5 million
  • August: $140.1 million
  • September: $305.2 million
  • October: $434.6 million
  • November: $449.2 million
  • December: $491.7 million

It’s worth remembering, this wouldn’t have happened so quickly had the law played out as intended, and people had to register for online accounts at the casinos.

For context, Pennsylvania, the No. 3 sports betting state in the US, took well over a year to hit $500 million in monthly bets. Illinois is on track to do it after seven months.

Meanwhile, Illinois only has five online operators — DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, PointsBet and William Hill — for most of its existence. That’s fewer than most top states.

And the top operators have enjoyed great success in the Land of Lincoln.

DraftKings has become the market leader

The in-person registration requirement was meant, in part, to make life harder for DraftKings and FanDuel in Illinois.

But thanks to mobile registration, they were the top two IL sportsbooks by handle in December. DraftKings Sportsbook alone took in nearly $200 million worth of bets that month.

“We’ve experienced substantial growth in both handle and active users each and every month since the inception of sports betting in the stage of Illinois. The future looks promising,” DraftKings Head of Race and Sportsbook Johnny Avello said. “We’re delighted to be there, and happy first birthday.”

DraftKings will also eventually have a retail sportsbook at Wrigley Field, as a part of its deal with the Chicago Cubs.

It took a few months for DraftKings to wrestle away the top spot from BetRivers, which dominated early on.

BetRivers still posted a massive $111.2 million figure in December, but it slipped behind both DraftKings and FanDuel for the first time.

More Illinois sportsbooks, and possibly online casino, too

As long as online registration remains in place, the Illinois market should continue to grow.

A few new operators will likely join the roster in 2021. That includes Barstool, whose launch is imminent. The Unibet and BetMGM app are also expected this year.

The new operators should raise the Prairie State’s ceiling.

Illinois will likely eclipse $500 million in handle soon, and from there, $1 billion is in sight.

But a year from now, the biggest story in Illinois gaming might not even involve sports betting.

Online casino betting, anyone? Illinoisans, it might be here sooner than you think.

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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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