Year In Review: Top 5 Stories Of The Illinois Gaming Industry In 2020

Written By Joe Boozell on December 31, 2020 - Last Updated on February 25, 2021

Illinois entered 2020 without a single sportsbook operator. Fast-forward to the end of the year, and it’s the fastest-growing market in the US.

The future is bright for the Illinois gaming industry, and 2020 was a monumental year for its sports betting industry.

Let’s take a look at five of the biggest developments over the past 12 months.

Sports betting launches in March in Illinois

Rivers Casino took the first legal sports wager in Illinois in early March, just in time for March Madness.

Or so we thought.

No one got to bet on the NCAA Tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic (more on that soon). Regardless, legalized sports betting has been a long time coming in Illinois. The opening of BetRivers IL Sportsbook will always be remembered.

Of course, what would happen over the next several months was all sorts of crazy. But most of it wouldn’t be possible had legal sports betting not launched in the first place.

Pritzker suspends in-person registration requirement

The 2019 Illinois Gaming Act forced people to go to casinos to sign up for online sports betting.

However, Gov. JB Pritzker suspended that requirement in June due to the pandemic. And after a brief in-person registration stint in July and August, Pritzker lifted the mandate once again.

Since Aug. 21, online registration has been permitted. And the Illinois sports betting industry is better for it.

In September, Illinois recorded a $305.2 million handle. That was fourth in the US; incredibly impressive for such a young market.

The in-person registration suspension also allowed for industry titans, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, to avoid the 18-month “penalty box” and become key players in IL.

With in-person registration, DraftKings and FanDuel still could have partnered with casinos and operated. But they would not be thriving to the extent that they are now.

The suspension will have lasting effects on the Illinois sports betting landscape.

Pritzker also closed casinos and video gaming terminals — twice

In March, Pritzker closed all 10 of Illinois’ casinos and all of its video gaming terminals (VGTs) due to the COVID-19 pandemic until July.

And once casinos reopened, most were only allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

COVID-19 numbers improved in Illinois over the summer, but in October, the situation worsened.

By November, Illinois was a full-blown hotspot. As a result, Pritzker closed casinos and VGTs once again.

As of December, Illinois casinos are still closed. While the vaccine news continues to be promising, retail gaming operators face a tough winter in the coming months.

DraftKings, Chicago Cubs make history

In early September, DraftKings struck a significant partnership with the Chicago Cubs.

The pair announced that DraftKings would open up a retail sportsbook at Wrigley Field, likely in 2022. The Cubs are the first MLB franchise to announce plans to operate a retail sportsbook in-house.

In the same week, DraftKings announced that Michael Jordan would join its board of advisors.

Considering Jordan’s Chicago ties as a legendary Bull, it was a huge week for DraftKings in Illinois.

However, they weren’t the only Chicago professional sports team to partner with a sportsbook. The Chicago Bears and PointsBet announced an exclusive rights deal in September, however, without the retail sportsbook component.

No news on new Illinois casinos, which is surprising

The gaming act allowed for six new Illinois casinos to be built in the Prairie State.

That was in 2019. As we get set to enter 2021, zero new licenses have been handed out.

It’s been the subject of much frustration among applicants, and you can read about it more in detail here.

Applicants sent in their materials to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) in October 2019, and were supposed to get a decision no later than October 2020. Instead, the IGB kicked the can down the road.

Chicago, Waukegan, Danville, Rockford, Williamson County and the south suburbs are the regions hoping for a new casino. If all goes as planned, they should get the green light in 2021.

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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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