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Illinois Preparing For Launch?

Illinois, America's fifth-largest state appears to be moving closer to the launch of a legal sports betting platform and all of the big players in the gambling industry are lining up for the chance at a license to provide services in Illinois. Last week, three more temporary sports betting licenses were awarded, bringing the number of approved licenses to six.

A launch date for legal sports betting in Illinois hasn't been announced just yet, but it is widely expected that the state will go live sometime before March Madness which begins March 17. Illinois hopes to get something done soon – they are in a virtual dead-heat with Montana in the race to become the first state in 2020 to move forward with a legal sports betting platform.

Illinois currently has 10 existing casinos, three horse racing tracks and seven big sports venues such as the United Center, each of which eligible to apply to run their own sportsbooks.

The venues

In January, the Illinois Gaming Board, which was tasked with overseeing legal sports gambling in the state awarded licenses to Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and the Argosy Casino Alton (a Penn National property). Those venues got a pretty good head-start on launch plans over the three newcomers announced Monday.

Two Hollywood Casino locations in Aurora and Joliet (both under the Penn National umbrella) and the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino in Peoria (a Boyd Gaming property) have been added to the list of gambling providers that have either temporary licenses or are in the process of receiving betting licenses for Illinois.

Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville is another venue in the application process for legal sports betting. It is the first racetrack in the state to start the process but Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course are likely to follow suit with Gov. Pritzker’s bill allowing up to three sports betting licenses for racetracks.

So…. When?

The Illinois Gaming Board has not identified a firm launch date but it is expected that bettors in the Land of Lincoln will be able to wager on their favorite team just ahead of the March Madness tournament. The culmination in the NCAA basketball season represents one of the bigger annual wagering events in the US. Huge sports betting revenues are on the line.

Governor JB Pritzker’s press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh, said last month that the state’s highest ranking official “is pleased that Illinois sportsbooks will open for business by March Madness, generating revenue to rebuild universities, hospital, and other facilities across the state.”

As far as venues ready to come online in the next couple of weeks, the Chicago-Sun Times reported that: "So far, the Alton gambling mecca, about 25 miles north of St. Louis, is the only applicant that has advertised a March Madness launch… Rivers Casino executives have said they’re “hopeful” they’ll be up and running by the time the tourney kicks off March 17.”

The March Madness timing is a bit curious however as bettors in Illinois won’t be allowed to bet on Illinois colleges or universities under the new rules.

The appetite

Illinois's sports culture is one of the most exciting in the US, making the lack of a legal sports betting platform a bit of a headscratcher. The Chicago Bears of the NFL, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL all call Illinois home.

Lawmakers should also have an appetite, especially after a report showed just what the Illinois legal betting industry is capable of. With estimated handles between $2.8 billion and $5.2 billion within the next few years, it is hard to ignore the tax revenue that will be generated off the platform for state and local governments.