What First Illinois Sports Betting Applicants Reveal About Path Forward

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Illinois sports betting

The first applicants are in for Illinois sports betting licenses, and the results provide some possible insights into how wagering will roll out in the Prairie State.

Only three of the 10 existing casinos applied for Illinois sports betting licenses last week at their first opportunity.

Argosy Casino Alton, Grand Victoria Casino Elgin and Rivers Casino Des Plaines have since been granted temporary operating permits by the Illinois Gaming Board.

The applications came in just days after the IGB issued the second phase of emergency rules. However, casinos had seven months since the governor signed sports betting in Illinois into law to prepare.

Here are some possible takeaways from the first batch of IL sports betting applicants.

Illinois sports betting on track for March Madness

Illinois Rep. Mike Zalewski, who authored the original IL sports betting legislation, set March Madness as a reasonable goal for the first sportsbooks to launch.

With the first temporary permits issued, Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, sees that as likely.

“I think everyone wanted something before the Super Bowl and that didn’t happen, but I think you’ll see something up and running before March Madness, at least at these three facilities,” Swoik said.

Joe Miller, director of policy at the IGB, says it’s up to the casinos to do the work necessary to have sportsbooks and possibly mobile wagering ready by March.

“We’ve given them the tools and now they can finish the job,” Miller said. “Once they get a temporary operating permit, it’s on them how fast they want to go to become compliant with the rules and offer sports wagering to their customers.”

Some Illinois casinos might not seek licenses

Independent casinos might apply for an Illinois sports betting license. But what about the duo of multi-casino entities?

Penn National Gaming has three casinos in Illinois. Once its purchase of the Caesars properties completes, Eldorado Resorts also will have three casinos in the state.

It’s worth noting that only one of three Penn National casinos applied for a license thus far, and it’s the casino for which the license costs the least. Sports license fees are paid at 5% of the previous year’s total casino adjusted gross revenue, capped at $10 million.

“I don’t know that the three Penn National casinos are going to have their own platform or if they are going to have one platform that all three will use and one license,” Swoik said.

Swoik added that he didn’t think all 10 casinos would apply for a license.

One way PNG could proceed

To strategically approach the varied high costs for Illinois sports betting licenses, Penn National could pay $1.9 million for a license with one casino and have its other two casinos share the mobile platform with the single licensee, saving $11.5 million. PNG declined to comment on their business strategy.

Fees are submitted when applying for a temporary operating permit. Initial sports wagering license fees for each casino are as follows:

Steps to IL sports betting authorization

For casinos to receive approval to start wagering operations, they need to complete testing certification from independent labs and gain adoption of an approved internal control system as outlined in the emergency rules.

Once complete, the licensees send a letter to the IGB that they are ready to commence provisional wagering operations. The board will do a final check and assuming there are no issues, the operators can quickly launch sports wagering.

“The rules are drafted in a way to be nimble and as reactive or as quick as our industry partners are ready to commit to sports wagering,” Miller said. “So when they’re ready, we will be ready for them to start.”

Casino association seeks to end in-person mandate

Swoik said that the biggest issue the majority of Illinois casinos had with the law is the in-person registration requirement for an online wagering account.

In-person registration doesn’t end until the first master online sports wagering license is issued, which appears to be in excess of 630 days according to the law.

“That’s going to restrict how many people are out there betting,” Swoik said. “It’s something we’d like to see changed.”

It’s not that simple though …

Changing the in-person requirement can’t be done through the IGB. It requires going through the legislature to change the law.

That opportunity could come early in the Illinois session, which started this week. Legislators need to go into the act to change the tax structure for a Chicago casino, which could open the door for other changes.

Swoik laid out his concern:

“Part of the problem of the legislation is they wanted to make extra money with gambling but they put so many restrictions into it that it takes longer to develop the rules and regulations. Then some of the regulations are going to limit money coming into the state not only in amounts but the time period to start flowing, so it’s kind of contradictory. Here on the one hand, they’re trying to get as much money as they can and on the other hand, it’s so restrictive that it’s slowing that whole process.”