Rivers was the only Illinois casino able to take advantage of Gov. JB Pritzker’s short-lived order to suspend in-person registration for online sports wagering accounts. However, that doesn’t mean the casino wanted remote registration.
A spokesperson for Rivers Casino tells PlayIllinois that Rivers and parent company Rush Street Gaming never asked for the governor’s executive order.
The suspension made sense. In-person registration wasn’t possible after Pritzker closed casinos because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pritzker stopped the executive order on July 26, which gave BetRivers just over a month to collect registrants remotely. The governor’s decision to not renew the executive order means other online sportsbooks launching this year likely won’t get the same opportunity afforded Rivers.
Rivers consistent on in-person registration
It’s known in the industry that the in-person registration requirement made the Illinois sports betting law at Rivers’ request. It was part of a compromise on the penalty box that Rivers Casino demanded for DraftKings and FanDuel. These sites operated daily fantasy sports in the state when it was not explicitly legal.
Instead of a penalty box, online-only licenses have to wait 540 days after the first legal sports bet in Illinois. That happened at Rivers on March 9.
The in-person registration requirement runs the same length of time. That puts it in place until September 2021.
No other casino in Illinois wanted the in-person registration when it was added to the bill the day the Illinois Legislature was scheduled to adjourn in 2019. Earlier this year, every casino except Rivers asked lawmakers to pursue legislation to remove the requirement.
Rivers is located in Des Plaines, a northern suburb of Chicago. As the closest casino to the Windy City, in-person registration gives Rivers an edge over its Illinois competitors.
It wouldn’t be gamesmanship for Rivers and Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm to now urge the governor to end the suspension before others enter the mobile market. They have lobbied for the requirement every step of the way.
Governor’s decision makes sense on surface
When Pritzker made the executive order to suspend in-person registration on June 4, if Rivers wasn’t asking for it, then probably nobody was doing so. There were no online sportsbooks live in Illinois and major sports were shut down.
But as a procedural move, it made sense to suspend an in-person requirement with casinos closed. The governor reissued the order on June 26, with casinos still shuttered.
Illinois casinos reopened July 1. Pritzker set the last group of executive orders to last a month. When they came up for renewal this time, casinos were back open.
Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor, issued the following statement:
“The governor issued Executive Order 41 and 44 so sports betting could continue on track amid the pandemic that forced the closure of casinos, which made it impossible for players to create sports betting accounts in person. Now that the state has entered phase 4 and casinos have resumed in-person business, there is no longer a need to suspend provisions of the law that require in-person registration.”
A casino lobbyist in the state, who asked the governor’s office for an explanation, heard that they simply thought it was fine to do away with the suspension because they hadn’t heard from any casinos that it was still needed.
Remote registration would give industry a boost
Representatives of Illinois gaming companies agreed.
They hadn’t made a point to ask for the executive order to continue because they weren’t yet offering mobile wagering. But they also didn’t expect it to end so abruptly.
For a few reasons, the suspension of in-person registration would make more of an impact now:
- Sports are back. Major League Baseball and the NBA returned to action recently. More importantly, the NFL and NCAA football are on the horizon.
- More Illinois online sportsbooks are on the way. DraftKings is reportedly close to entering the market through its partnership with Casino Queen. More casinos are looking to launch mobile apps in the third quarter now that sports are up and running.
- Many people don’t want to go to casinos during a pandemic. Poker rooms, table games and buffets are closed at Illinois casinos to promote social distancing.
“It was an executive order that made complete sense and still does,” said Jeremy Kudon, a lobbyist for DraftKings and FanDuel.
“I don’t understand how the governor, in so many other instances, is limiting contact and on this one thing he is saying, ‘You know what, we’re OK with people congregating in casinos.’ Illinois shouldn’t be forcing people to go into casinos now to do something that can clearly be done over a mobile phone.”
Kudon asserted that the only real winners in reinstating in-person registration are offshore online sportsbooks operating in the US illegally.
Legislature best bet for remote registration
Executive orders by the governor during this pandemic are temporary in nature. Industry representatives only see one way Pritzker reinstates the order. That is if a significant spike in coronavirus cases causes Illinois to return to phase 2.
That reality has Illinois casinos eyeing the veto session beginning Nov. 17 and going until Dec. 3 to seek a legislative correction to creating mobile wagering accounts.
“Several stakeholders have raised enough issues with the original law that it seems wise to revisit revisions in the near future,” Rep. Mike Zalewski said.
Why casinos have hope for changing requirement this year
But Bluhm had the political clout to get in-person registration into the bill when Rivers was the only one of Illinois’ 10 casinos that wanted it. And when the other casinos asked lawmakers for a change earlier this year, it didn’t happen. Why will anything be different this time around?
By November, some Illinois casinos should have proof that in-person registration is hurting their bottom line. Low sign-ups and online sports betting revenues are hard evidence. And, as a result of the pandemic, the industry and state need the money.
“This most likely will have a negative impact on the number of individuals setting up sports wagering accounts and will decrease the potential for additional revenues for the sportsbooks and the state,” Tom Swoik, the executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said of the governor reinstating the in-person registration.
To overcome Rivers’ opposition to remote registration, the other casinos in Illinois might need to fail before they can succeed.
“I hope this shows the absurdity of the law and leads to the legislature making a change to the in-person requirement in November or December,” Kudon said. “I think that’s what is best for the market and would benefit the people of Illinois.”