A Look Back At What’s Happened And What’s To Come 2 Years Into Illinois’ Gaming Expansion

Written By Joe Boozell on June 29, 2021

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the gaming expansion bill into law in June 2019. Two years have passed, and plenty has happened during that span.

Gaming was a featured component of Pritzker’s $45 billionRebuild Illinois” legislation.

The collection of bills brought legal sports betting to the Land of Lincoln and also allows for six new Illinois casinos to be built.

There have been plenty of plots twists and turns along the way; however, Illinois was the No. 2 sports betting state in April.

As for the casinos, well, progress has not come nearly as easily. The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has yet to grant any final licenses, though a few are getting close.

Let’s dive into what’s happened two years into Illinois legal gambling expansion.

Illinois sports betting is booming

As mentioned, Illinois was second to New Jersey in sports betting handle in April.

That’s despite the fact that Illinois requires in-person registration for online sports betting accounts. It has since April.

Of course, that’s the way the law was intended to play out. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pritzker instituted an executive order allowing for online registration. The executive order lasted for seven-plus months.

That order paved the way for Illinois to become one of the most robust sports betting markets in the country.

Illinois sports bettors have wagered over $4 billion on sports since March 2020. That’s resulted in nearly $48 million in tax revenue for the state.

In March, Illinois set an all-time record for handle with $633.6 million.

And, if you recall, the law included a “penalty box provision” that was designed to keep the likes of FanDuel, DraftKings, etc., out of the market for at least 18 months.

Instead, those operators struck market access deals with casinos. When the pandemic allowed for an extended period of mobile registration, they were really in business.

Now, FanDuel and DraftKings are the top two sportsbooks in handle and revenue by a wide margin.

New Illinois casino progress has been slow

When Pritzker finalized the Rebuild Illinois plan, six regions were granted casino license capability. They are:

  • Rockford
  • Williamson County
  • Waukegan
  • Danville
  • South suburbs
  • Chicago

Two years later, two regions have been found “preliminarily suitable” for a license. Those are Rockford (Hard Rock) and Williamson County (Walker’s Bluff).

However, neither has secured final approval yet. The IGB green-lit the Hard Rock Casino Rockford’s temporary casino, though, so it’s extremely close to full approval.

At any rate, the IGB’s slow process has frustrated a lot of people, from members of the state government to residents of the assigned areas.

Many groups submitted their applications back in October 2019 and still don’t have an answer. The decision deadline was supposed to be October 2020. However, the law gave the board some leeway in extending that deadline.

As for the Chicago casino, there is a Request For Proposals (RFP) currently available to all interested bidders. The city hopes to determine an operator by the end of the year and proceed with the IGB accordingly.

Right now, it appears that the Hard Rock Rockford casino will be the first of these regions to market, while the Chicago casino will likely be last.

What’s to come?

More sportsbooks in Illinois …

It’s been an eventful two years in the Illinois gaming space, and we’re expecting to see even more significant developments over the next half-decade.

Illinois should eventually return to online sports betting registration, likely in 2022. Then, IL can solidify its spot as a top US market and perhaps creep toward $1 billion in monthly handle at some point this decade.

More online betting operators should also join the fray. Right now, there are only six sportsbooks in Illinois, but that number will eventually hit double-digits.

Meanwhile, casino news has picked up a bit over the past few months. At some point, all six of the listed regions should have casinos, bringing the state’s total to 16.

… and racinos, too

There will also be two “racinos” at Hawthorne Race Course and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing (formerly Fairmount Park).

Will we get online casino gaming …

Finally, there are still many issues for the legislature to potentially tackle.

The Illinois House and Senate each introduced online casino bills in 2021. Neither passed in the most recent session, but there is legislative momentum to get something done over the next few years.

Obviously, that would be a game-changer. Online casino is a much more consistent revenue driver than sports betting, and Illinois is an extremely attractive market.

… and be able to be on in-state college team?

There is also currently an in-state college sports betting ban. That means Illinoisans can’t bet on teams such as Illinois, Northwestern, etc.

About a month ago, the House passed a bill that would repeal the ban — but people would only be able to bet on those teams in person at retail sportsbooks.

The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.

Eventually, there may be enough willpower to allow Illinois residents to bet on their home college teams online.

What’s up with da Bears?

Oh, and we could wake up and see the Chicago Bears playing in Arlington Heights a few years from now.

There’s never a dull moment in Illinois.

Photo by Amr Alfiky / AP
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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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