Unibet To ‘Reevaluate’ Illinois Launch Timeline; No Word On BetMGM’s Plans

Written By Joe Boozell on April 9, 2021

At least one of the two pending sports betting applicants in Illinois is changing its launch plans due to the return of the in-person registration requirement.

Unibet, which applied on Nov. 16, 2020, was just waiting on Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) approval to go live.

Manuel Stan, the senior vice president of Unibet US, told PlayIllinois:

“This is unfortunate news for Illinois customers as a step in the opposite direction from what we consider an optimal set up – a seamless mobile experience. Based on this, we will reevaluate our timeline to launch in Illinois.”

Unibet has a market access deal with Argosy Casino Alton.

Alton, though, is a town of fewer than 30,000 people in southwest Illinois. And while it’s about 30 minutes from St. Louis, Missouri residents would not be able to download Unibet in IL and use it in their home state. Sports betting is not legal in Missouri.

Although Unibet would hold Argosy’s mobile license, the casino is using Barstool as its retail partner.

To begin with, it’s hard enough to get people to register in person. But to then ask them to download Unibet at a casino with a Barstool Sportsbook is, at best, quite confusing.

Unibet’s best bet might be to either wait out new legislation or hope that someone eventually pays $20 million for an online-only license.

That would free up remote registration for everyone.

What about BetMGM in Illinois?

BetMGM is the other pending Illinois sports betting applicant.

When contacted for this story, BetMGM declined to comment. But here’s what we know about its situation.

BetMGM could likely secure market access with Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria. Once FanDuel switched its mobile sports betting license to its racetrack, the Par-A-Dice license opened up.

Boyd Gaming owns Par-A-Dice Casino, and Boyd and BetMGM have a partnership.

The problem, of course, is that East Peoria is almost a three-hour drive from the populace Chicago area. BetMGM Sportsbook would be entering the Illinois market at a severe disadvantage, considering most the existing operators had months to register users online.

Its other option is to fork over $20 million for a mobile-only license. BetMGM likely has among the deepest pockets of any operator not currently live in Illinois.

The money aside, the issue for them is that once a mobile-only license is handed out, it opens up online registration for competitors.

BetMGM may decide that’s still the best route for them in Illinois, though. If it doesn’t launch in IL fairly soon, we may be tipped off to their thinking.

If an online-only license is issued, it likely won’t happen until early 2022.

How about theScore Bet?

Finally, theScore Bet secured Illinois market access a few weeks ago, thanks to a partnership with Harrah’s Joliet Casino.

TheScore said then that it hoped to go live in the Land of Lincoln by the end of the year, and according to a spokesperson at theScore, its timeline is unaffected by the news.

Unlike Unibet and BetMGM, theScore Bet has yet to apply for a license formally. And, as we’ve seen with the former two, approval can take a while.

In addition to continued remote registration, the ticket to sports betting growth in Illinois was more sportsbooks joining the mix.

In-person registration not only makes it extremely difficult for current operators to add new customers, but it also makes for an unattractive market for potential operators.

Illinois nearly cracked $600 million in monthly handle in January. With March Madness betting, it may clear that threshold. However, with the return of in-person registration, March will likely be the highest mark the state will see for a while.

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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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