What Illinois Can Learn About Sports Betting From Its Video Gaming Revenues

Written By Derek Helling on October 20, 2019 - Last Updated on January 6, 2020
Illinois learning from VGTs

When Illinois sports betting will go live is anyone’s guess. The latest Illinois video gaming revenues suggest that it would be best to launch mobile betting at the same time as retail.

While revenues at the state’s physical casinos declined in fiscal year 2019, video gaming terminals saw an uptick. The difference is clear and simple: ease of access.

That’s a lesson the Illinois Gaming Board should take seriously when it launches sports betting in Illinois.

Comparing Illinois video gaming revenues to land-based numbers

Total gambling revenues from all sources in the state of Illinois in fiscal 2019 came to $1.4 billion. The $48 million increase from fiscal 2018 amounted to a 3.5% improvement.

That was in spite of, not because of, Illinois casinos. All of the state’s casinos save Rivers in Des Planes brought in less revenue in fiscal 2019 than they did in fiscal 2018.

The hero for Illinois gambling was video gaming. Revenues for those channels amounted to over $398 million in fiscal 2019. That’s $46 million more than fiscal 2018.

One huge reason for the revenue disparity is an access disparity. There are almost 34,000 video gaming terminals in Illinois, while there are only 10 casinos.

While Cook and Lake counties combine to contain almost a quarter of the state’s video gaming terminals, they are more widespread to more communities than casinos. Proximity increases convenience, which in turn increases the likelihood of patrons not only paying frequent visits to the terminals but wagering more, as well.

It’s a simple formula the state should replicate with sports betting. The more convenient you make placing the wagers, the more prominent it will be.

Why video gaming is a good omen for mobile sports betting

In other states that have unrestrained mobile sports betting, eight out of 10 dollars wagered come online. Whether that be on a desktop computer or a mobile device, the action drives this point home.

What also bodes well for mobile sports betting is the fact that there are no video gaming terminals in the state’s most populous city, Chicago. Opening up sports wagering to the Windy City would open up that market.

In order to capitalize on that untapped market, Illinois doesn’t just need to get sports betting live as soon as possible, but online sports betting live as soon as possible. If the state lags behind on the latter, it could experience the same situation as New York.

In the Empire State, land-based sportsbooks have a legal monopoly on sports betting. All the casinos are located upstate, however, far from the state’s heaviest population centers.

Two neighboring states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have mobile options for residents and visitors. Therefore for a lot of New Yorkers, it’s easier to cross the state lines and place their bets on their phones than drive hours to the casinos.

Illinoisans have shown the same preferences in their casino gaming spending. To make matters worse for the Illinois treasury, neighboring Indiana now has online betting. If Illinois doesn’t launch mobile betting soon, its residents will similarly find it easier to cross the state line and access sportsbooks from their phones.

Illinoisans can be expected to bet on sports in high numbers, but only if it’s convenient for them. The numbers on video gaming are proof of that.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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