Four Years Later, Is Illinois Still On Its Way To Being The Next Gambling Mecca?

Written By J.R. Duren on August 25, 2023
Sports Metal For Second Place with Illinois sports betting 4 years later

When Illinois launched sports betting in 2019, many industry experts felt the state would be the epicenter of the US sports wagering universe. Four years later, Illinois is a clear second behind New York, leading experts to wonder: Will Illinois ever become the mecca of sports betting, or is it destined to lag behind New York?

To answer that question, PlayUSA spoke with in-house analyst Eric Ramsey, as well as PlayIllinois Managing Editor Dave Briggs.

What is holding Illinois sports betting back?

There are two big issues—one past, one present—that have hindered the Illinois market.

First, Illinois lawmakers required individuals to register in person if they wanted to bet online. Most industry experts see this as a serious hurdle, as most states allow bettors to sign up for online accounts through their web browser or mobile device.

Illinois nixed the in-person rule in 2022, making sports betting sign-ups much easier for people.

The second hurdle that Illinois faces as it tries to climb to the top of the US sports betting market is the cost of entry for sportsbooks. Licenses are expensive, Briggs said, and paying big bucks to compete against titans like FanDuel and DraftKings isn’t feasible for some companies, he commented:

A sports betting license costs a minimum of $10 million and that is if a sportsbook is tethered to a casino … and online-only sports betting license is $20 million. Given that Illinois is a mature sports betting market dominated by DraftKings and FanDuel, that makes it difficult for operators to justify the cost given the unlikelihood of gaining enough market share to make it worth the investment.”

But even if licenses were cheaper, Ramsey isn’t sure Illinois’ bottom line would change much.

There’s also a case to be made that the high price tag on licenses stifles competition and lowers the overall ceiling,” he said. “There probably is some small effect there, but I’m not convinced the financials in Illinois would look substantially different with 20 operators than they do with seven.”

Will future growth of Illinois sports betting handle match national trends?

If Illinois is to make up any ground on New York, it will have to outperform the average growth of sportsbooks around the country. But is that possible?

Ramsey believes outpacing national trends is already happening after Illinois eliminated its in-person betting requirement.

“Over the last six, 12, and 18 months [since in-person registration ended], Illinois is tracking slightly ahead of most other markets of a similar age,” Ramsey said. “It seems to have a little more room left to grow than most comparable markets that have already reached their initial state of maturity.”

Briggs is a bit more optimistic, noting the upcoming launches of several new sportsbooks in the state. The marketing that comes with those launches could cause the handle and revenue to spike. Briggs commented:

“That’s a lot of new names in the market and that means a huge marketing spend is coming from some or all of those operators to try to grab market share. That, along with the continued proliferation of sports betting in the lives of Illinoisans should lead to [continued] handle growth and revenue.”

Can Illinois catch up to New York?

Illinois will likely never generate more handle or revenue than New York for one main reason. First, population: New York has roughly seven million more people than Illinois.

However, Briggs believes the state can get a firm grip on second place. New Jersey, one of its top competitors, has seen its sports betting growth slow down as the market has matured over the past five years.

Illinois, Briggs pointed out, is still growing.

“Illinois could also see as many as five new operator names in the market in the next year,” he said. “Also, Bally’s is building the first casino in the city of Chicago. While retail sports betting only makes up for 4% of the total sports betting handle in Illinois, a sportsbook in the heart of the city of Chicago will help drive handle.”

Another wild card that could help Illinois anchor itself in second place? Circa Sportsbook, Briggs said.

Circa Sportsbook could be a difference-maker in the sports betting market. Their low-hold, high-bet model is very different than what we see now in Illinois. It could attract a different kind of Illinois sports bettor not served well now by the current operators.”

Ramsey is less optimistic. He believes there isn’t much chance Illinois sports betting will ever bet the top state for handle, and may even concede second place if Texas and Florida legalize online sports betting.

Photo by PlayUSA
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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