AURORA and JOLIET, Ill. — Lights … camera … sports wagering!
Two more sportsbooks in the state of Illinois accepted their first legal wagers Thursday as Hollywood Casinos in both Aurora and Joliet launched their newest additions.
The two books, operated by Penn National Gaming, increase the number of places sports betting is available in the state of Illinois to six. They are the third and fourth books, respectively, to open in Illinois this month after William Hill launched its sportsbook at Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin on Aug. 1, and DraftKings at Casino Queen in East St. Louis followed suit four days later.
Rivers Casino in Des Plaines through BetRivers and Argosy Casino Alton, also with Penn, launched in March prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns. The Illinois Gaming Board has issued eight sports wagering licenses overall, with only Par-A-Dice in East Peoria, which is expected to be operated by FanDuel, and Hawthorne Race Course, which will have its sportsbook run by PointsBet, yet to commence operations.
Of the six sportsbooks now active, only two — BetRivers and DraftKings — are available online, and access to those mobile books currently comes only after registering in person at Rivers and Casino Queen, respectively.
Hizzoner gets first bet honors at Hollywood Aurora
Get all your weekend action in. OPEN NOW. pic.twitter.com/jR4DFe6IAI
— Barstool Chicago (@barstoolchicago) August 20, 2020
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin placed the ceremonial first bet at Hollywood Aurora shortly after 11 a.m. local time, placing $20 on the Chicago White Sox moneyline at -177 to defeat the Detroit Tigers. Masks and social distancing continue to be the norm throughout the state’s 10 casinos, and Irvin is hoping the arrival of sports betting will provide a revenue bump to help the casino and the city — located among the outer suburbs of Chicago.
“It has been a little nerve-wracking,” Irvin said about getting to the launch day. “We’ve been on pins and needles hoping this day would come so we can infuse some excitement and energy back into gaming, especially sports betting.”
Irvin pointed out that when Hollywood Casino originally opened in Aurora back in 1993, the city was receiving approximately $17 million annually from gaming revenue, but that number has since dipped below $7 million. The mayor said “the hope is [sports betting] takes the revenue back up to a very respectable amount for the city as well as Hollywood Casino and their investment in the city.”
Hollywood Aurora has four ticket windows and 10 self-service kiosks — the latter all partitioned with plexiglass — set up near the ticket area, all of which is centrally located on the casino floor. General Manager Gregory Moore estimated the timeline for opening the sportsbook was delayed three months due to the pandemic-related shutdown and subsequent re-opening, but he feels he has everything in place going forward.
“I think we’ve partnered with the right people,” Moore noted. “We’ve got Kambi, we’ve been working with them closely on all the equipment and technology and they’ve been very helpful. I think the biggest thing was working super closely with the regulators. It’s new to the state, new to Illinois, new to this property with Penn despite it having a lot of other properties.”
Moore said there has yet to be a determination of what brand Penn will use for the retail sportsbook at Hollywood Aurora. He added he was not certain if the official request to commence online wagering has been made to the IGB, but he expects “it should be coming shortly one way or the other.” Moore also had no worries about the Chicago-area market being oversaturated as it quickly has become a hotbed of sports betting activity.
“What we’ve seen at a lot of other places is sports betting is largely contingent on the size of the population. Chicagoland is a huge metropolitan area,” he said. “So I don’t think anyone is overly concerned about not getting a big enough piece of the pie to be viable. I think it’s just another way we can offer something for everyone here.”
99 Hops House housing sportsbook at Hollywood Joliet
Let’s have a day. pic.twitter.com/uH3pLoGr0Y
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) August 20, 2020
In contrast to Aurora in terms of physical set-up, Hollywood Joliet has opted to make its sportsbook a destination area. It is part of 99 Hops House — situated one floor above the main casino gaming area where bettors can eat, drink, and watch games unfold on 37 TV screens and two large projection screens. One of the casino regulars placed the first wager, also betting on the White Sox.
VP of Hollywood Joliet Lydia Garvey noted the biggest challenge was restarting the process to get the area up to speed once she was given a launch date. The 99 Hops House area had been under construction when Hollywood Joliet was allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity July 1.
“Not knowing when we were going to reopen was the biggest factor for us,” she said. “Making sure the people we hired when we thought were going to open in March, who still wanted to work for us, and how we were going to get the licensing and training pieces done.
“We’re very happy with the set-up. We think that here in Hops House with all the TVs and great food, it’s a great environment and we’re looking forward to being the place to watch games.”
Garvey noted the request to commence online wagering is being handled through Penn’s corporate office. Like Aurora, there is no specific branding of the Joliet sportsbook — it will go by “The Sportsbook at Hollywood Joliet” for the time being — but she pointed out “everyone knows of our relationship with Barstool Sports, and we’ll look to see if we can capitalize on that when the time is right.”
The sportsbook at Hollywood Joliet has five ticket window counters and six self-serve kiosks in proximity to the ticket counter. There are an additional eight self-serve kiosks located throughout the main casino gaming area.
“We took a very diligent approach to it, the same way we have with reopening the casino,” Garvey added about the challenge of adding a new gaming entity. “Our focus was on being safe, being cautious, and being responsible. We wanted to make sure we did it right instead of doing it fast.”