Unibet Targets Early 2021 Launch; Will It Be The Next Online Sportsbook In Illinois?

Posted on October 23, 2020

Who’s going to be the next online sportsbook to launch in Illinois? There’s a good chance it will be Unibet, which plans to go live in early 2021, the senior vice president of Kindred US, Manuel Stan, tells PlayIllinois. 

There are currently five mobile sportsbooks in Illinois: BetRivers, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet and William Hill.

Somewhat surprisingly, there hasn’t been a launch since mid-September despite Gov. JB Pritzker renewing mobile registration until at least Nov. 14. Based on how the COVID-19 pandemic is trending in Illinois, that online registration could be allowed for the foreseeable future.

Stan had this to say about the online registration extension:

“We are hopeful that the extension will be made definitive to best protect the Illinois patrons. The in-person registration requirement is a significant hurdle for licensed operators, creating an unfair advantage for offshore operators, resulting in a low level of channelization.”

Unibet, which secured Illinois market access through Argosy Casino Alton in September, is already live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana. It is in the process of applying for a Sports Management Service Provider license in the Prairie State.

Based on the promising early revenue numbers of Illinois, Unibet has every incentive to launch as quickly as possible.

What Illinoisans can expect from Unibet Sportsbook

Unibet emphasizes its extensive library of live bet offerings, and that’s the signature feature of the product.

In states where it’s live now, there will be more than 200 betting types for the Bears’ upcoming Monday Night Football game, for example. The vast majority of pregame bets will also be available during the game, with line adjustments in real=time.

Unibet launched in Indiana on July 30, so it’s still relatively new there. But in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it posted $7.7 million in revenue in the second quarter, up 131% from Q1.

Unibet also plans to launch in Iowa in January, as it has staked its territory in the Midwest.

Why the Illinois market was attractive to Unibet

We’ve only gotten two revenue reports out of Illinois, but the latest was particularly promising.

Illinois posted nearly $140 million in handle in August. That was in an environment where mobile registration was only in place for the last 10 days of the month, and BetRivers was the only online sportsbook live for the entire month.

We’re expecting gaudy numbers in September and beyond. Remote registration was in place for the entire month, and five online sportsbooks were in the mix. Football also returned, perhaps the most important factor of all.

Illinois is expected to leapfrog Indiana in September handle, making it the No. 4 US state by that metric. Considering how immature the market is, that’s extremely impressive.

It makes sense that operators would prioritize Illinois, as Kindred has. Surprisingly, the market isn’t overly saturated yet, with only five online sportsbooks.

“Illinois is one of the largest states in the US with mobile sports betting revenues forecasted at over $600 million per annum at maturity,” Stan said. “Illinoisans are known for their passion for sports and that aligns perfectly with our core values – friendly, passionate and expertise.”

Kindred also has plans to launch Unibet in Ohio as soon as sports betting is legal there.

Could Barstool Sportsbook be next?

Unless someone comes from completely out of left field, the next online sportsbook to launch in Illinois will be Unibet, Barstool or BetMGM.

Barstool is live in Pennsylvania and is targeting Michigan next. It plans to launch in Illinois in 2021, according to Penn National CEO Jay Snowden.

Barstool is likely to partner with one or both Hollywood casinos for market access.

We know less about BetMGM’s plans, but we know that it is targeting Illinois.

BetMGM applied for a sports betting license on Sept. 4, and the application is still pending.

The mystery is how BetMGM will gain market access unless it plans to wait 18 months in the “penalty box.” We know that Jumer’s Casino & Hotel wants to get into sports betting after being acquired by Twin River, and it doesn’t have an online dance partner.

However, the sale isn’t expected to close until the second quarter of 2021, and Jumer’s hasn’t applied for a sports betting license.

Could BetMGM partner with a sports facility such as the United Center or Guaranteed Rate Field? Perhaps, but that’s pure speculation.

Unibet has the clearest path to launch next in Illinois. Now, we wait.

Photo by Dreamstime.com / Edenmanusphotography
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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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