Illinois casino operators haven’t seen any revenue since mid-March. That could change, however, because of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order on the state’s in-person registration requirement for online sports betting.
As long as Pritzker’s latest executive order is in effect, Illinoisans can register their accounts for legal sportsbooks in the state completely over the internet. The preeminent question now is, will that matter?
Pritzker orders in-person registration suspended
Pritzker’s move affords some relief to casino operators in IL, as their facilities remain closed. At this point, there’s no indication of when IL casinos could reopen. Accordingly, there’s no way to bet online in IL right now.
Under IL law, sports bettors must register their accounts for online sportsbooks in person. That mandate expires when the Illinois Gaming Board grants the first of three standalone online-only licenses. IL law also requires the IGB to wait 540 days after brick-and-mortar sportsbooks start accepting wagers to issue those licenses.
The clock started ticking on that 540-day period on April 9, when Rivers Casino Des Plaines accepted Illinois’ first legal wager. Pritzker’s order does not change IL law but merely suspends its enforcement temporarily.
After his order expires, the in-person registration will take effect again, unless that 540-day period expires first. At that point, bettors new to online wagering in IL will have to visit appropriate facilities to complete their registrations again.
Right now, there’s no timetable for the expiration of Pritzker’s order. It’s a fluid situation highly dependent on the decline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary change may bring some much-needed revenue to IL casino operators. This change is unlikely to affect the status quo for the IL Lottery, however.
Why the status quo remains unchanged for the IL Lottery
IL law allows video lottery terminals in the state to accept parlays. VLTs cannot accept single-event wagers, however.
The state has ordered VLT facilities closed along with casinos for the time being. As with casinos, there’s no official timeline for any change in that status.
Even if VLTs were up and running right now, the operators of the terminals were not close to having their sports betting products live before the shutdown. It’s unlikely they will take any action to accelerate that process given the fact that Illinoisans can’t access the machines.
For the owners of casinos and other gaming and sporting facilities in IL, there could be some benefit. It all depends on speed at this point.
How casino operators could benefit from Pritzker’s order
Pritzker’s order does not affect the timeline for the IGB to issue standalone online licenses. IL law still prevents such issuance until the 540-day period ends.
For that reason, the quickest path into IL for online sportsbooks is still the state’s facilities. IL law allows casinos, off-track betting sites, racetracks, and sports stadiums with a capacity of at least 17,000 to apply for sports betting master licenses.
Each master license holder can contract with a sportsbook operator to handle the online segment of the business if it elects to do so. Although it can manage that in-house, it’s a popular option for facilities.
There is a potential workaround for an online sportsbook operator in buying a physical gaming facility inside the borders of the state. However, that may prove more costly and take more time than simply bartering a deal with a master license holder.
The exact terms of deals between facilities and online sportsbook operators are not often publicized. Usually, facilities collect a percentage of revenue and other fees for sharing their licenses with online operators.
Prior to the closure of IL casinos, no online sportsbooks had yet started accepting wagers in IL. BetRivers, the online sports betting app for Rivers Casino, is in prime position to be the first.
Although there’s no official timeline for when BetRivers or any other online sportsbook may go live in IL, this move by Pritzker may accelerate those plans. There are several moving parts to that situation, however.
Why Pritzker’s order may not be a game-changer for bettors
Although bettors in IL don’t have to respect the in-person registration requirement, for now, the question becomes which will happen first: Pritzker’s order expiring or online operators in IL actually going live?
Even BetRivers won’t be ready to launch in IL tomorrow. It must undergo inspections by the IGB. Additionally, there is likely still work to do to get the app and website ready to take bets. A spokesperson for BetRivers declined to comment Friday morning.
For other operators who don’t have IL partners, the process has a few more steps. They have to negotiate market access as well as apply for and receive licenses on top of building out the products for the market, then undergoing inspections.
As with any other government agency, the resources of the IGB are finite. If there’s a sudden rush on regulators, that could delay the process.
Pritzker’s order could expire before online operators are up and running in IL. If that happens, the benefit for bettors in IL could be minimal if not non-existent.
Regardless, Pritzker’s move could tempt online sports betting apps to negotiate market access deals with IL’s master license holders on a more aggressive timeline. For the companies that hold those licenses, any revenue is better than none.