Legal sports betting touched down in Illinois in March 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic stopped it almost immediately after it began. A pair of brick-and-mortar sportsbooks were open less than one week before Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered the closure of the state’s 10 casinos.
The silver lining is that Illinois online sports betting — and this is key: the ability to register online for an account without having to step foot into a casino — has seen its timetable accelerated as a result of the circumstances. More on that below. In the coming weeks and months, Illinois residents (and visitors) should have access to a handful of the nation’s leading online sportsbooks, such as BetMGM, BetRivers and William Hill, with DFS-turned-sportsbook giants FanDuel and DraftKings searching eagerly for a way to break in quickly.
This page will review in detail the status of legal online sports betting in Illinois, and what sports bettors in the Land of Lincoln can expect in the future.
Bet on sports online in Illinois now
Legal online sportsbooks in Illinois: It’s here!
Online sports betting began in Illinois on June 18 when Rivers Casino went live through BetRivers. The timetable for online sports betting was both accelerated and thrown into disarray when Pritzker issued an Executive Order on June 4 waiving the in-person registration required to gain access to a mobile sports betting account. With the Executive Order in effect for the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations related to COVID-19, bettors in Illinois have been given an unexpected opportunity to register with the convenience of their smartphone or home computer.
Here’s a look at the current Illinois brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and the expected/projected online sportsbooks they will offer:
|Casino/Racetrack||Master License Status||Sportsbook Open Date||Online Sportsbook(s) - Expected and Live|
|Rivers Casino||Yes - Granted||March 9, 2020||BetRivers (Live)|
|The Argosy||Yes - Granted||March 12, 2020||Penn National (Expected)|
|Grand Victoria||Yes - Granted||TBD||William Hill (Expected)|
|Hollywood (Aurora)||Yes - Granted||TBD||Barstool (Expected)|
|Hollywood (Joliet)||Yes - Granted||TBD||TBD|
|Casino Queen||Yes - Granted||TBD||DraftKings (Expected)|
|Par-A-Dice||Yes - Granted||TBD||BetMGM (Expected)|
|Harrah’s Metropolis||No||TBD||Caesars/TBD (Expected)|
|Harrah’s Joliet||No||TBD||Caesars/TBD (Expected)|
|Hawthorne Race Course||No - Current Applicant||TBD||PointsBet (Expected)|
|Fairmount Park||No - Current Applicant||TBD||FanDuel (Expected)|
|Arlington Park||No - Current Applicant||TBD||BetAmerica (Expected)|
All three racetracks in Illinois have applied for sports betting licenses. Of the three, Hawthorne and Fairmount Park have also applied for racino licenses, while Arlington Park declined. Arlington Park’s parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, has a majority stake in Rivers Casino in nearby Des Plaines.
Registering an Illinois sports betting account
With the suspension of the in-person registration via Executive Order, there is a window of opportunity for bettors to simply sign up to the casinos approved for sports wagering that also have been approved to conduct mobile and online sports betting. Otherwise, a bettor can also register in-person at a casino, but remember, that registration is only good for that specific sports book operator.
When registering online, bettors likely will have to provide their last name, home address, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number as part of the age verification process.
The legal age for gambling in Illinois, be it casino or sports betting, is 21. It is 18 for horse racing, which may cause logistical issues down the road – all three racetracks in the state have applied for sports betting licenses that are expected to have retail sportsbook operators with mobile app capabilities if approved.
Physical Location Boundaries
Illinois sportsbook operators will utilize geolocation security technology similar to other states that have legalized both retail and online sports betting. The quality of those geolocation services will be important since Illinois is bordered by two states (Indiana and Iowa) that have online sports betting while a third (Kentucky) has sports betting in its legislative pipeline.
The bettor does not have to be an Illinois resident to place a wager but simply be in the state at the time of placing the wager. A strong WiFi signal or cellular service provider should be enough for the geolocation tracker to confirm the point of origin, though being close to a bordering state could prove occasionally tricky.
Aside from age and physical location requirements, Illinois law also has a specified list of people who are not permitted to place wagers in Illinois. Additionally, there IGB has the authority to ban people or allow themselves to be placed on a self-exclusion list. Those lists exist as a safety mechanism to help individuals protect themselves from a gambling problem.
In terms of betting options, the law defines a “sports event” as: A professional sport or athletic event, a collegiate sport or athletic event, a motor race event, or any other event or competition of relative skill authorized by the Board. While this appears to give sports books a wide latitude in terms of offerings, some events such as eSports or one-off events may require approval from the state’s gaming board for wagering to be legal.
Deposits and Withdrawals
After registering your account, regardless of locale, the next step is to deposit money. As with other states, Illinois has multiple options available to bettors that are both quick and convenient when it comes to accessing money.
Banking options will include:
- ACH/e-Checks (ACH)
- Online banking via online credentials with your bank.
- Cash deposits at physical locations
- Wire transfers
Credit card deposits may be allowed for deposits, but there is a chance the issuing bank of a card may not allow deposits into a sports wagering account.
New patrons should acquaint themselves with “Welcome Bonus” promotions that most sportsbooks offer upon time of sign-up. Check back on this page for the top IL sportsbook bonuses. Those include promotions such as matched bets, risk-free bets, matched deposits and bonus money. Most promotions include a specific code to be entered at the time of deposit in order to access such a promotion, and they are usually available only at the time of the first deposit.
The land-based casinos and future online sportsbooks
While the capital bill that legalized sports betting allows for the creation of five new casinos across the state, including one in downtown Chicago, and as many as three racinos, there are still plenty of existing options across the Land of Lincoln. There are 10 casinos in Illinois, and as of mid-June, seven have been granted Master Sports Wagering licenses.
Illinois allows only one mobile skin per entity, which means there will be multiple online operators vying for bettors’ attention. That list includes:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- Circa Sports
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- FOX Bet
- Golden Nugget
- William Hill
Types of wagers
The expectation is Illinois will offer bettors a full menu of wagering options for professional and college sports and other events that include the standard options of:
- Futures bets
- In-game betting
- Moneyline bets
- Spread bets
- Player Prop bets
- Totals (over/under)
- Other options
Who are Illinois’ home sports teams
Home to the third-largest city in the United States in Chicago as well as the fifth-largest state overall in terms of population, Illinois is well-represented in all major sports. The Cubs (MLB) are no longer baseball’s lovable losers after their 2016 World Series title and vie for “Windy City” bragging rights with the White Sox on an annual basis.
The Bears (NFL) continue to be one of the biggest calling cards in the state in terms of overall fandom, and the recent success of the Blackhawks (NHL) – winners of three Stanley Cup titles since 2010 – has lifted the profile of hockey in Illinois. While Michael Jordan may be long gone, the Bulls (NBA) still fill the United Center.
Additionally, Chicago’s central location nationally plus its proximity to Notre Dame makes Illinois well-suited for betting on college sports as many people proudly represent their Big Ten alma maters.
Laws and regulations
The United States banned all sports wagering except for some small grandfathered markets in 1992 through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). In 2012, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill, and after a lengthy legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the act in a ruling on May 14, 2018.
For sports betting to finally arrive in Illinois, there was much in the way of negotiations and horse-trading. Representatives Bob Rita and Mike Zalewski were the primary proponents of sports betting and were met with challenges at almost every step of the legislative process.
That is apparent in some of the conditions in the sports betting bill portion that is part of the capital bill, including a mandate for “official league data,” the provision requiring in-person registration for 18 months, no betting on Illinois colleges, branding rules that required clarification from the regulatory board and the now-moot delay in launching stand-alone mobile platforms.
All told, there are up to 23 master licenses available when including sports venues, none of which have submitted an application as of June 2020. This, though, is expected given the COVID-19 pandemic. There are only three mobile-only licenses available, and each comes with a hefty price tag of $20 million. Those will be up for bidding after an RFP process sometime in 2022.
Sports venues need to pay $10 million, while casino license fees can be up to $10 million.
The tax rate on adjusted gross revenues is 15%, which is on the upper end of reasonable when compared to other states. In the case of Cook County, there is an additional 2% tax on AGR – which is a nod to the earning potential of a downtown casino in Chicago as well as Rivers’ status as the top retail casino in the state.
More background on IL betting law, politics
Online betting in Illinois was always going to be a drawn-out process, even after Pritzker signed SB690 into law in June 2019. Included in the bill was a provision creating a 540-day waiting period for online-only operators to submit their applications for consideration to the Illinois Gaming Board after the first Master Sports Wagering license was issued.
This provision was considered to be a “penalty box” for online giants FanDuel and DraftKings, who were ruled to have illegally operated daily fantasy sports contests in Illinois in 2015 according to the state’s attorney general. The waiting period – which Rivers Casino owner Neil Bluhm wanted to be three years before Pritzker and fellow Illinois lawmakers negotiated it down to 18 months — was designed to allow retail sports books the opportunity to bring their mobile apps to market and establish themselves before DraftKings and FanDuel entered the picture.
In the first year after Pritzker signed the $12 billion capital bill that legalized sports betting, the state’s regulatory agency took a deliberate approach. Even when the first sports wager was legally accepted at Rivers Casino on March 9, that 540-day clock had not started because all seven casinos that were approved had only temporary operating permits. And of those seven, only two were given provisional approval to accept bets.
Everything, though, changed due to COVID-19. Sensing the need for the casinos to have a revenue stream while either closed or operating at less than 100% capacity, Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-41 into law June 4, 2020 which suspended the in-person registration to obtain a mobile sports betting app.
That kicked off a flurry of activity in which the seven casinos that had permits were granted sports betting licenses the following week, finally starting the 540-day clock for online-only applications.
History of gambling in Illinois
The first association of sports wagering and Illinois immediately recalls the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919 in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. While the eight were publicly acquitted in trials in 1921, then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them from baseball. The banning of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson remains a point of contention since it also included banishment from consideration to the Hall of Fame.
Another legendary Chicago figure, gangster Al Capone, was reported to have run sportsbooks during the prohibition era and owned a dog-racing track called the Hawthorne Kennel Club.
On a positive note, Illinois can lay claim to the inventor of the point spread. Charles K. McNeil, a former bank securities analyst, developed a formula to rate football teams in the 1940s and estimated by how many points a favorite would defeat an underdog. While McNeil called it “wholesaling odds” at the time, it later became known as the point spread and revolutionized the sports betting industry at the time and put it more in line with what we know today.
Room for Growth
Illinois is already well-situated with 10 existing casinos and recognized its growth potential in the capital gaming bill by giving horse racing tracks the potential to add racinos and sportsbooks to the mix. Additionally, Gov. Pritzker’s Executive Order accelerated the timetable for online sports wagering in the state, much to the benefit of casino and bettor alike.
Tack on the likelihood of sportsbooks at iconic venues such as Wrigley Field and the United Center, plus potential casinos in downtown Chicago and locations across northern Illinois that can draw from the Wisconsin market, and the Land of Lincoln is well-poised to remove the sleeping portion of the moniker “sleeping giant” when it comes to sports betting in the next few years to come.