Online Illinois Sports Betting Sign Ups Continues, But For How Long?

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Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images. Pictured: David Montgomery and Jimmy Graham

  • Illinois sports betting registrations are supposed to be completed in person, but an executive order has allowed online sign ups on a month-to-month basis.
  • How long will these sign ups continue? It's hard to say -- lawmakers are set to return for two legislative sessions and could remove in-person registration all together, or it could stay in place through the end of 2021.
  • Ryan Butler tries to make sense of a strange situation.

Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave sports bettors an extra 30 days to sign up for any legal sportsbook in the state without having to complete the registration in person. It remains to be seen if that exemption continues past Oct. 17.

Illinois was one of just a few states to require in-person sportsbook registration. After the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered all state casinos in March 2020, Pritzker’s executive order made sense.

But after signing the initial remote registration order June 4, Pritzker allowed the exemption to expire on July 26. This meant bettors would, again, have to sign up in person at a casino before placing a mobile sports bet, even as officials restricted gaming facilities and other businesses to combat the COVID-19 spread.

Pritzker signed a new mobile registration executive order Aug. 21, this time lasting through Sept. 19. It wasn’t until the Sept. 19 expiration day that Pritzker issued his latest remote registration extension, this time through Oct. 17.

With little word from neither Pritzker nor the Illinois Gaming Board as to when (or if) that extension continues, it’s hard to predict how long this remote registration period will last.

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Political Background Shapes Illinois Sports Betting

The on again, off again registration requirement saga follows more than a year of messy negotiations that created one of the nation’s most convoluted sports betting bills.

In the closing moments of the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers reached a compromise sports betting bill that allowed state casinos, race tracks and sports stadiums to open digital and retail sportsbooks. For the 18 months following the first online sportsbook’s launch, the bill required all digital sportsbook registrants to sign up in-person at a retail gaming facility.

The casinos supported this as a way to generate greater foot traffic to their more lucrative offerings such as slots and table games. They also supported restrictions around three “untethered” licenses allowing additional market entrants that didn’t have to affiliate with a retail gaming facility but requiring a $20 million application fee and an 18-month “penalty box” which prohibited their launch until a year-and-a-half after the first digital sportsbook went live.

Casino stakeholders, especially Illinois-based Rush Street Interactive, wanted the penalty box to ostensibly get a head start on DraftKings and FanDuel, the daily fantasy titans turned sportsbooks which gobbled up majority market share in the other states with legal wagering.

Rush Street took the first legal retail sports bet in Illinois at its Rivers Casino Des Plaines on March 3, 2020 and launched the state’s first digital sportsbook on June 18. Notably, its online launch came after Pritzker’s original June 4 order suspending in-person registration.

DraftKings and FanDuel stuck partnership deals with Casino Queen in East St. Louis and Par-A-Dice in East Peoria to be their respective sportsbook providers, allowing them market access without having to apply for an untethered license. DraftKings launched its online sportsbook Aug. 5 — after Pritzker’s order had expired.

That meant would-be DraftKings online bettors would have to sign up at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, a five-hour drive from Chicago. Meanwhile, BetRivers had more than a month to sign up players remotely between its June 18 launch and the executive order’s July 26 expiration.

Additionally, Rush Street’s casino locations near O’Hare Airport was far more convenient to Chicago (and most of the state’s population) than DraftKings’, another advantage attracting players who now had to register in person.

That edge continued until Aug. 21 when Pritzker unexpectedly reinstituted mobile registration. FanDuel launched its digital sportsbook Aug. 29, PointsBet followed Sept. 12 and William Hill went live Sept. 15 – all during the latest period in which Pritzker’s order allowed mobile registration.

It wasn’t until the day the renewed order was set to expire that the five sportsbooks would know whether or not remote registration could continue.

Future of Illinois Sports Betting Registration Remains Cloudy

The unusual back-and-forth timing of Pritzker’s orders has sportsbooks and bettors scratching their heads.

With no end to the pandemic insight, and Illinoisans still asked to minimize travel and social distance, it makes little sense bettors would have to travel up and down the state to register for all five legal sportsbooks when a simple stroke from Pritzker’s pen could allow them to do so from home. If the aim for sportsbooks and the government is to garner dollars and taxes, respectively, why not extend the mobile registration executive order indefinitely?

Answers to those questions don’t appear imminent. Pritzker and state gaming officials have not disclosed publicly their long-term registration plans.

Lawmakers are set to return for two legislative sessions later this year and they may make remote registration permanent. But that is no sure bet. And If the bill isn’t changed, in-person registration would technically be Illinois law past the end of 2021.

Pritzker could continue these month-by-month exemptions, but the pacing remains odd, especially after Illinois garnered more than $61 million in wagers in just its first couple months with legal wagering, a figure that would surely have been curtailed without mobile sign-ups.

While bettors and books undoubtedly appreciate the remote registration for now, it’s still unsettling to think it could be taken away in just a few weeks — especially when the long term plans remain so indecipherable.

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