New Illinois Sportsbooks Coming — And They’re Not Circa Or Fanatics

Written By Dave Briggs on July 25, 2023 - Last Updated on June 4, 2024
Coming Soon

More Illinois online sports betting operators appear poised to be joining a market that has long been home to just seven sportsbooks. And the new entrants coming will be above and beyond the arrival of Circa and Fanatics.

The agenda for Thursday’s Illinois Gaming Board regularly-scheduled board meeting lists an item under the “online only master sports wagering license” category that specifically says: “identification of winning bidders.”

Previously, it was thought there were no bidders for an online-only Illinois sports betting license for a couple of important reasons:

  • That particular license costs $20 million.
  • Illinois, like most states, is dominated by DraftKings and FanDuel. That makes it tough for a new entrant to carve out enough market share to be worth the investment.

PlayIllinois is predicting bet365 will be one of the new operators

Given those market conditions, PlayIllinois‘ best educated guess is bet365 is the most likely sportsbook operator to enter the Illinois market via an online-only license.

Previously, we handicapped the odds of which sports betting operators were most likely to come into the Illinois legal sportsbook market.

We pegged Circa (2-1) and Bally Bet (3-1) as the favorites for obvious reasons.

At that time, Circa already had a deal with Full House’s American Place Casino in Waukegan. Since, Circa has told PlayIllinois it expects to launch as the eighth Illinois sportsbook before the start of the NFL season.

Meanwhile, Bally’s is building the first casino in the Chicago city limits. The $1.8 billion project is sure to include a sportsbook and it makes sense Bally’s would want to run it.

And, Fanatics recently announced a deal to buy PointsBet’s US operations. If approved, Fanatics is expected to enter the Illinois market in 2024.

That leaves bet365 as the most obvious choice. The European-based online gambling giant was third on our list of possible market entrants at 5-1 because it is “big enough to have a chance to gain enough market share in Illinois to justify the cost of entry.” bet365 is currently one of the most successful operators in Ontario’s crowded regulated market (nearly 70 operators and counting). bet365 also operates in New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado and Iowa.

Other contenders possibly coming include Unibet, Pinnacle, Betr and more

There are other possibilities, of course. And the IGB agenda does say “winning bidders” plural.

Unibet, another huge European brand, has applied to the IGB for a license in the past. Unibet currently operates in Ontario, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona and Indiana.

Pinnacle could also be interested. The black-market operator has gone legit in Ontario, but nowhere else in North America, yet. But, the popularity of Pinnacle with some bettors gives them a shot to grab enough market share in Illinois if they do decide to try. Pinnacle and Circa Sportsbook have a similar business model. They are both popular with bigger bettors because they tend to offer better odds instead of bonuses, credits and inducements. Both market themselves as welcoming winners, large wagers and not banning users that cash too often.

Other outsiders include:

  • Betr — Billed as the world’s first micro-betting sportsbook, Betr offers a unique selling proposition that could make entry into Illinois viable. Betr allows betting on individual moments in a game not related to the final score (i.e. balls and strikes in a baseball game). Though, there’s been no word that the Joey Levy/Jake Paul-backed sportsbook is eying Illinois, Betr is available in Ohio and Massachusetts.
  • Prophet Exchange — The New Jersey-based operator offers a unique selling position — a betting exchange. A betting exchange is a marketplace that allows bettors to wager against each other at lower fees. Prophet Exchange has not indicated it wants in on the action in Illinois, but it certainly would be remiss not to consider the Prairie State. Though, that $20 million license…
  • Fox Bet — There’s no word that Fox Bet is looking at Illinois with any seriousness. But it is operating in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So, it’s not crazy that it would consider Illinois.

It’s unlikely Hard Rock or Golden Nugget have an interest in an online-only license. Both have existing retail casinos in Illinois and could gain entry to online sports betting through their own sportsbooks at a much lower cost. The price to come into the market while tethered to a retail casino license holder is a percentage of adjusted gross receipts, with a minimum cost of $5 million.

IGB had struggled to attract interest in online-only licenses

All this is a bit of a surprise considering the IGB had struggled to attract interest in its online-only sportsbook licenses in the past.

So much so, it had to reopen bidding for the licenses.

When the IGB first made online-only licenses available in August 2021, only four relatively-weak operators applied.

The IGB rejected Malta-based sportsbook operator Tipico for missing the December 2021 deadline.

Florida company Digital Gaming withdrew its application after filing.

Fubo Gaming took a shot, but was told by the IGB that it “did not meet the minimum qualifications and was disqualified.” Probably best since Fubo Gaming announced on Oct. 17 that it was ceasing operations.

The only nearly-successful applicant was Tekkorp, an investment group connected to one of Mexico’s leading gaming companies, Caliente. But Tekkorp announced in October of 2022 that it was no longer pursing a sportsbook license in Illinois.

Attractiveness of the Illinois sports betting market is obvious

There are three online-only slots available. The current online operators all entered the market via a tether with one of the 13 retail Illinois casinos.

They are:

The attractiveness of the Illinois sports betting market is undeniable. It is solidly the second biggest sports betting market in the US.

And, having only seven competitors — eight once Circa Sportsbook launches — allows for a greater chance of carving out a meaningful market share even with the sector dominance of FanDuel and DraftKings.

All of which makes Thursday’s Illinois Gaming Board announcement more intriguing.

Stay tuned, Illinois sports bettors, more sportsbook operators appear to be coming your way.

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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in North America with an emphasis on the casino, sports betting, horse racing and poker sectors. He is currently reporting on the gaming industries in Illinois and Canada.

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