This Bookmaker Should Be Happy About Illinois Sports Betting Mess, And It’s Not Rivers

Posted on July 30, 2020

The agenda for today’s Illinois Gaming Board meeting does not mention Rush Street, DraftKings, or FanDuel in the sports betting section.

In reality, though, any discussion of sports betting in Illinois returns to those bookmakers. Governor J.B. Pritzker‘s abrupt move Friday to restore the state’s in-person signup requirement for sports wagering accounts assures it.

Outside the melee stands PointsBet, which could score a victory as a result of the Rush Street vs. DFS fight. Sports betting partner Hawthorne Race Course received its master IL sports betting license today from the IGB in a unanimous vote.

With DraftKings unable to sign up customers remotely, PointsBet’s strategic move to secure prime real estate 10 miles west of downtown Chicago could pay major dividends. As Credit Suisse analysts Alice Li and Larry Gandler noted earlier this month, PointsBet’s decision to prioritize Illinois hinged on grabbing market share from Chicago’s 2.7 million people before remote signups began in late 2021.

PointsBet CEO Johnny Aitken released a statement after the vote, reading in part:

“In combination with our premium retail locations conveniently located in and around metro Chicago, we are sure we’ll be providing the Illinois consumer with exactly what they’ve been craving, both in-person and online.”

Wild few months in Illinois sports betting

Retail sports betting in Illinois started in March, less than a year after lawmakers passed a complex sports betting bill. Only Rush Street and Penn National launched before the coronavirus pandemic forced casinos to shut for almost four months.

Pritzker moved in early June to lift the law’s restriction on remote account signups, owing to the casino closures. That set off an unanticipated race to licensure among operators in Illinois. None knew how long Pritzker would lift the cap but the prospect of getting ahead in one of America’s most lucrative markets could not be missed.

Rush Street’s Rivers unsurprisingly took the state’s first online sports bet just two weeks after Pritzker’s order. Who would be second though?

Enter the Crown

The Illinois sports betting law placed obstacles in the path for DraftKings and FanDuel. The political influence of Rush Street combined with lingering bad feelings over old DFS battles led to an 18-month hold on remote account signups aimed at the two operators.

The only way into the market would be partnering with an existing Illinois casino and rebranding within state regulations on each property’s one online skin. Cash-flush DraftKings proved nimble in securing a sports betting license and a deal with Casino Queen.

Less than a day after rebranding as DraftKings at Casino Queen, the property sank from potential Chicago cash cow to East St. Louis afterthought under Pritzker’s new order, at least for now.

PointsBet poised to pounce?

PointsBet signed a 20-year deal with Hawthorne last July to partner on sports betting in Illinois. The operator received its initial sports betting license July 14 and Hawthorne’s approval at Thursday’s IGB meeting finishes its preparations.

The Chicago edge could boost PointsBet at a crucial time. DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM announced significant cash infusions in recent months. Rush Street Interactive looks to be next as the company prepares to go public via a SPAC deal announced this week.

PointsBet does not hold the same currency, as CEO Sam Swannell acknowledged to investors this week:

“Indiana and Illinois are really the target states for us going forward,” Swannell said. “And we’ll be looking to execute a more well-rounded brand strategy. We want to introduce to the market that there’s alternatives to FanDuel and DraftKings, and that PointsBet is here.

“That’s not something we’ve been able to do on a large-scale in New Jersey, and that’s one of the reasons we are confident in our ability to hit our target market share in those states.”

Swannell placed the company’s market-share target at 10%, a goal far more attainable in Illinois after Pritzker’s surprise last week.

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Adam Candee

Adam Candee is the managing editor of Legal Sports Report. He covers sports business and news from Las Vegas, where he works as a sports radio host for ESPN and VSiN. Adam is a former editor and reporter at the Las Vegas Sun, Arizona Daily Sun, and KLAS-TV. He can be reached at [email protected]

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