Illinois sports betting did not make the deadline for legalization before the Super Bowl. But there is a good chance that sportsbooks will be open for business in time for March Madness, according to Robert Channick of the Chicago Tribune.
That’s good news for business. The American Gaming Association expects more than $8.5 billion dollars to be wagered on the NCAA Tournament, which would make it the largest betting event in the country. The Super Bowl expected $6.8 billion, while other major events don’t touch the March Madness figure for a number of reasons. Due to the length of the tournament and the general interest in it from the public, Illinois sportsbooks would kick off legal betting in the state in a huge way with a March Madness launch.
Gaming board reviewing applications
Des Plaines’ Rivers Casino, Elgin’s Grand Victoria and Alton’s Argosy all applied for sports betting licenses after rules governing operations were presented by the Illinois Gaming Board on Jan. 23, according to Channick,. The board unanimously approved those rules, which provide proper guidelines to casinos and bettors, at a Jan. 30 meeting.
Board administrator Marcus Fruchter told Channick, “The gaming board is reviewing the applications and plans to issue temporary operating permits to allow the sportsbooks to launch as soon as they are ready to do so.”
The opening of sportsbooks will allow the offering of online betting for Illinois residents as well. But Channick expects that to come after the opening of the casinos. The Illinois Sports Wagering Act that passed in 2019 allows Illinois’ seven large sports venues, three horse tracks and 10 casinos the opportunity to collect a sports gaming license. Channick also reports that three online-only sportsbooks could acquire licenses 18 months after the first on-site license is issued.
The application process for casinos opened in December, which could have allowed for an earlier opening than the current timeline. But applicants waited for the operating rules before applying according to Channick. Several sources he spoke with expected the first sportsbooks to open in time for the NCAA Tournament in March.
March Madness remains the target
One of those sources was Illinois Rep. Mike Zalewski from Riverside. He was one of the house members that helped make Illinois’ sports betting legislation. In his interview with Channick, he said the three casinos that have filed their applications “have the best chance” of being ready for March Madness.
“There’s a healthy dose of optimism that they’ll be able to make a bet by March Madness,” he continued. “That’s a reasonable goal given where we are on the timeline.”
Rivers Casino general manager Corey Wise also spoke with Channick about their sportsbook being ready in time. Rivers opened a BetRivers SportsBar in December in preparation.
“Rivers is working towards opening its BetRivers Sportsbook as quickly as possible,” said Wise.
Channick reports Illinois’ gaming board is reviewing 10 applications for five of the six new casino licenses available from the state’s gambling expansion law. A sixth casino located in Chicago has stalled due to gambling tax laws.
Applicants south of Chicago are competing to break ground on casinos in either Lynwood, Matteson, Homewood or Calumet City. The gaming board will have one year from the application deadline on Oct. 28 to review and choose the five licenses that will be awarded. Some of the other Illinois cities included in applications are Rockford, Waukegan, Williamson County and Danville.
If Illinois residents are hoping to be able to place a bet on an in-state school for the NCAA Tournament, there could be a few options. Illinois is in the midst of a solid season and firmly in the picture for an at-large bid with its 8-5 record in the Big Ten. Loyola, Southern Illinois and Bradley are second, third and fourth in the Missouri Valley conference standings. All three schools would need a conference tournament championship run to get an automatic bid into March Madness. DePaul and Northwestern have struggled thus far, combining for a 2-22 record in their conferences. Northern Illinois is currently first in the MAC West, also needing a conference tournament championship run to clinch an automatic bid.