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A Step Back in the Illinois Legal Sports Betting Scene

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A Step Back in the Illinois Legal Sports Betting Scene
Snow and ice covers Soldier Field and the skyline in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

The state of Illinois has been in the middle of an incredible climb up the list of bet-friendly states in the exploding US legal sports betting market. Since being signed into law in June 2019 and launching in June 2020, Illinois has been a consistent member of the “top-5 club” in terms of their monthly handles, but their status is in danger thanks to the impending return of a pre-pandemic requirement for its bustling mobile platform.

When signed into law, Illinois lawmakers went with an in-person registration requirement for those wishing to use Illinois’ growing mobile platform. That means a visit to a brick-and-mortar facility to sign-up for mobile apps was required. Other top producing states in the nation currently give their citizens the chance to sign up remotely… and Illinois did too until Gov. JB Pritzker’s failure to renew Executive Order 2020-41 on Friday.

A Little History

We are all old enough to remember when our world was “normal”, when we could hit up the local casino without restrictions and when we could venture out without the fear of getting sick. It was only a year ago after all!

COVID-19 brought with it a whole new set of realities for our planet and effected the legal sports betting scene in the US dramatically. In turn, governments had to find ways of generating new sources of revenues in order to mitigate some of the adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s where Executive Order 2020-41 came in for Illinois. It bypassed their state’s requirement of in-person sign up procedures for its mobile sports betting platform and allowed its citizens to register for betting apps remotely, from the comfort of their own homes, at least temporarily.

The order has since been extended a total of nine times and has directly led to Illinois’ mobile platform to be responsible for 96% of the $2.5 billion overall handle Illinois sportsbooks have seen since June. In January alone, the state reported a record $581.5 million in handle, 99% of which or $575.2 million was online. It has led to Illinois top-four status nationally, behind only New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, Nevada, which is the only other state with an antiquated in-person registration requirement has yet to see 60% of their overall handle coming from internet-based sports bets.

The Updated Guidance

Starting Sunday, Illinois mobile sports bettors were required to visit a brick-and-mortar facility to sign up for mobile apps – a policy that is not sitting well with stakeholders in the Illinois mobile sports betting scene.

Bettors are now required to download betting apps at corresponding casinos therefore threatening the momentum seen in Illinois since the relaxations of the previously restrictive laws. Progress on the coronavirus front has essentially led to the regression of the advancement of the Illinois betting industry.

A spokesperson for Gov. Pritzker’s office went on record saying: “Illinois is currently in Phase Four with vaccination rates rapidly increasing and casinos around the state have reopened with safety guidelines in place, so the suspension of in-person sports betting registration requirements is no longer needed.”

The Ramifications

The impressive growth of the Illinois sports betting scene looks as though it may hit a speedbump in the next few months at least. Fears are that not as many bettors will sign up for mobile betting and that the overall handle will suffer due to the slowdown of the influx of customers. Illinois had clearly benefitted from the relaxed sign-up rules.

With a lower handle comes lower profits for sportsbooks which, in turn, will lead to a lower tax contribution to state and local coffers. This is unless dedicated bettors are willing to hop in their cars, drive for hours in some instances to facilities that are currently allowed to hold up to 50% capacity during a pandemic.

Simply put, the in-person sign-up rule is a blow to the Illinois legal sports betting industry and the trickle down cannot be discounted.

In-Person Not a Forever Thing

When lawmakers in Illinois drafted their legal sports betting regulations, they stipulated an 18-month in-person sign-up period for online sports betting accounts. It is a tangible, but potentially damaging timeline that forces the state’s sportsbooks to wait until January 2022 before the possibility of remote sign-up abilities becoming a permanent reality.

So, while the customers that took advantage of Executive Order 2020-41 will be grandfathered in and will be able to carry on with their mobile betting, fear persists that the generation of new customers for the state’s mobile platform may be seriously diminished.

All eyes will be on the sports betting numbers coming out of Illinois for April. Correspondingly, there will be more than a few that will be wondering about Governor Pritzker’s next move to buoy his state’s previously exploding sports betting industry.