How Illinois Became The No. 2 Sports Betting Market In America

Posted By Joe Boozell on June 14, 2021

Illinois didn’t have online sports betting registration for most of April, yet it was the No. 2 market in the US by handle.

The Illinois sports betting market finished well ahead of Nevada and Pennsylvania. Illinois, which is one of the last states to report monthly numbers, recorded $537.2 million in handle. Meanwhile, Nevada and Pennsylvania failed to crack $500 million.

Only New Jersey, which notched $748 million in bets, finished higher.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker ended online registration effective April 4. And, despite that, Illinoisans were extremely active in the betting market, at least relatively speaking.

Without any football or March Madness betting, sports wagering handles across the country predictably fell in April.

Let’s dive into how Illinois ascended to the No. 2 spot so quickly.

Long period of online sign-ups due to COVID-19

From mid-August 2020 until early April 2021, there was an uninterrupted online sportsbook registration period. It’s safe to say that Illinoisans took advantage of those seven-plus months.

During (or slightly before) that span, six online sportsbooks in Illinois launched:

Based on the Sports Wagering Act, Illinois’ success was never meant to happen so quickly. In-person registration was supposed to be around until 2022.

But the pandemic forced Pritzker’s hand, so he continuously renewed his monthly executive order, waiving the in-person registration requirement.

When online sign-ups are in place, the Illinois sports betting market is among the most robust in the country.

IL ranks sixth in the US in population, barely behind Pennsylvania for fifth. The top four states do not yet have legalized online sports betting, though, in fairness, New York bettors spill over into New Jersey.

Also, Illinois is a sports-crazed state. Chicago is one of the biggest cities in the country, and its passion for sports is well-known.

There are plenty of popular sports teams in Chicago to bet on, which helped juice the market in April. While a state such as neighboring Indiana doesn’t have a professional baseball team, Illinois has two: the Cubs and White Sox.

Illinoisans wagered a healthy $121 million on baseball in April, second to only basketball in terms of individual sports and almost $100 million more than third-place soccer.

Some markets are extremely football or March Madness-dependent. But perhaps Illinois is better suited to handle the “off” sports betting months because Chicago is such a popular baseball city.

And yet, Illinois now has a ceiling

While that’s all great news for the IL sports betting market, there is not much room for growth in the short term due to in-person registration.

Clearly, Illinois sportsbooks registered plenty of people in the fall, winter and early spring, and those users can keep betting on their phones. But without adding new customers, there’s not much more upside to tap into.

That’s especially a bummer for the upcoming football season. That’s when sportsbooks acquire a significant chunk of their user base, and barring an unlikely legislative fix, IL books will miss out on the 2021 season.

Once 2022 rolls around, we should see a return to online registration. That’s when mobile-only licenses become available, and the issuance of a mobile-only license will trigger remote sign-ups for all.

But in an alternate world where online registration is the norm in Illinois, it’s not crazy to think the Prairie State could have challenged New Jersey for the No. 1 spot by the end of the 2021 football season.

Tidbits from April revenue report

As has been the case in most months, Illinois sportsbooks cleaned up on parlays.

Here are the April handle numbers by sport:

  • Basketball: $173.6 million
  • Baseball: $121 million
  • Parlays: $116.4 million
  • Soccer: $31.2 million
  • Tennis: $30.9 million
  • Hockey: $19.4 million

Smaller sports combined to make up the rest of the handle.

While parlays were third by handle, they were easily first by operator revenue. Operators profited $19 million on parlays in April, $10 million more than any other category seen above.

Finally, the return to in-person registration helped Rivers Casino take about 50% of the retail market share. Despite that, Rivers’ overall market share dropped by about a percentage point from March to 15.7% in April.

BetRivers is still a clear No. 3 in the Illinois market, but it doesn’t appear that in-person registration will help it catch FanDuel or DraftKings in any meaningful way.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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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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