Illinois Casinos Push To Eliminate In-Person Sports Betting Registration Requirement

Written By Matthew Kredell on October 14, 2021

Eliminating the in-person requirement to register for online sports betting accounts could come up during the Illinois veto session beginning next week.

Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association (ICGA), told PlayIllinois that some of his members are pushing lawmakers for a legislative fix.

“I believe there has been some discussions amongst some of the companies and some legislators about that. It seems to me like it ought to be a pretty easy thing to get done.”

The Illinois Legislature returns Oct. 19 to meet for six days, ending Oct. 28. The purpose is to consider the governor’s vetoes of legislation it passed during the regular session.

However, lawmakers can also use this time to address unfinished business from the regular session. One such matter is SB 521, a gaming bill passed by the House in June. The legislation includes language to lift the ban on in-state college betting in Illinois, though only for wagers placed at a retail sportsbook.

Nearly all Illinois casinos support in-person repeal

Swoik said that eight of the nine members of the ICGA are in favor of removing the in-person requirement.

The only opposition is Rivers Casino, which originally pushed for the requirement.

Swoik added that he’s heard from a lobbyist with Par-A-Dice Casino, which is partnered with FanDuel, that it also wants the in-person requirement gone.

So that makes nine of the 10 casinos in Illinois supportive of a legislative fix.

Background on in-person sportsbook registration requirement

During the final sports betting negotiations in June 2019, the in-person registration requirement came to be as part of an effort to punish DraftKings and FanDuel.

Rivers had pushed for a three-year waiting period for DraftKings and FanDuel to enter the market because they previously offered daily fantasy sports in the state during a gray period.

As a compromise, lawmakers gave Illinois casinos an 18-month exclusivity period to offer sports betting before three mobile-only licenses became available. To get Rivers on board, lawmakers added the in-person registration requirement until the first of these mobile licenses gets issued.

In-person registration requirement becomes irrelevant

After the pandemic hit, Gov. JB Pritzker repeatedly issued executive orders removing the in-person registration requirement.

During this period, sports betting account registrations skyrocketed.

Swoik said he did a survey of the casino members of the association that showed more than 92% of all people who have registered for sports betting accounts in Illinois did so online during the times the governor waived the in-person requirement.

There’s no doubt that Illinois wouldn’t have become the No. 3 sports betting market in the country if the in-person requirement hadn’t been temporarily lifted. But now the mandate is back in place just in time for the NFL season.

Legislative fix likely needed to fix unintended result

In August, the Illinois Gaming Board published applications for three online-only sports betting licenses. The application deadline is Dec. 3.

There’s serious doubt that anyone will apply. DraftKings and FanDuel are already in the market. By partnering up with Illinois gaming facilities, they’ve become market leaders. So the incentive doesn’t seem to be there to pay $20 million for a separate license.

Swoik noted that at a 5% hold, sportsbooks need to make $400 million to cover the cost of the license.

“We’ve got nine sports wagering facilities in Illinois now, the two Harrah’s are coming soon, then five new casinos plus Chicago gets you to 17. Why would they want to pay $20 million to be 18, 19 and 20?”

When lawmakers crafted the legislation, they expected the in-person registration requirement to sunset when the IGB issued an online license.

“The problem is that if a license is never issued, it will never go away,” Swoik said. “If someone did apply for a mobile license, the requirement would go away within three-to-four months. If a legislative fix passed in the veto session, it would probably take effect right around that time, so I don’t know what the big problem would be with getting it done.”

Will gaming bill come up during Illinois veto session?

Sen. Cristina Castro previously told PlayIllinois that the Senate could look at the bill during the veto session.

Swoik said he hasn’t heard of any legislation that Illinois will take up during the veto session other than redistricting.

But if the Senate wants to take up SB 521, repealing the in-person requirement could become part of it.

And Swoik, who is retiring from his position at the end of the year, thinks that it should.

He added that he’s heard some concerns from lawmakers that if they remove the in-person registration requirement, the state will never get that $60 million. That could be a reason lawmakers wait until the next session rather than make a fix before seeing if someone applies.

“I think one of the concerns is if they remove the in-person registration requirement, nobody would apply for those three licenses, which I’m not sure anyone would anyway at $20 million,” Swoik said. “There may be some concerns that if they take that out now, anybody interested in the mobile license may drop off that map and the state would lose money.”

Photo by AP file photo
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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