Illinois casinos snag sports betting licenses, still don’t know when they’ll reopen


Illinois casinos are still in the dark as to when the state might let them reopen to the public but their online sports betting plans are getting a little clearer.

On Thursday, the Illinois Gaming Board announced that they still had no clue as to when the state’s 10 casinos might warrant inclusion in the governor’s Restore Illinois post-pandemic economic reboot. The casinos were ordered closed on March 16 in order to minimize further spread of COVID-19.

The casinos did get new guidelines they’ll need to have in place before regulators will clear them to reopen. Most of the protocols mirror that of Nevada and other states, including a 50% capacity constraint. Still that’s preferable to the rules applied to Detroit’s three casinos, which learned this week that they’ll be limited to just 15% of their normal capacity when they reopen.

Two casinos – Rivers Des Plaines and the Argosy Casino Alton – were able to launch their retail sportsbooks just one week before the casinos were shut. On Thursday, those two casinos plus five more – Grand Casino Victoria (Elgin), Hollywood Casino Aurora, Hollywood Casino Joliet, Par-A-Dice (East Peoria) and Casino Queen (East St. Louis) – received their ‘master licenses,’ netting the cash-strapped state $40m in immediate license fee payments.

No casino has yet to launch digital betting, mainly because none of them have bothered to file the necessary requests with the Gaming Board. There wasn’t much of an incentive to do so during the lockdown, as the state’s betting regulations require mobile-curious bettors to register in-person at a casino sportsbook.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker threw the casinos a bone on Monday by temporarily relaxing that in-person registration rule for the duration of the pandemic lockdown. It remains to be seen how quickly operators will look to take advantage of Pritzker’s temporary incentive.

The state’s in-person registration rule was originally scheduled to last for the first 18 months of legal wagering. The intent was to give land-based operators time to acquire customers before online-only betting operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel crashed the party. Thursday’s awarding of those master licenses means that this 18-month clock has now officially started.

The three online-only betting licenses available under the state’s regulations won’t be awarded for another two years, and the ‘lucky’ recipients will have to pay upfront fees of $20m, plus another $1m every four years, for the privilege of dipping their toes in Illinois’ betting pool.  In the meantime, online-only operators can partner with casinos but their products must bear the casino partner’s brand.