After nine months of temporary approval of remote mobile sports betting in Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker has finally closed the book on mobile registrations in the state. The last Executive Order by the governor to extend the remote registration period was issued on 5th March ahead of the highly anticipated March Madness. This was just a day before the expiry of the previous extension period, prolonging the window for one more month until 3rd April.
Thus, starting last Sunday, sports bettors who never took the opportunity to create their accounts remotely will now have to do it in person. In an email correspondence with one of the local dailies, a spokesperson from the governor’s office further shed light on the governor’s decision saying that:
“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.”
After Gov Pritzker signed the Illinois’ sports betting bill into law in June 2019, regulated retail and mobile sports betting in the Prairie State made its debut 9 months later, in March 2020. More importantly, there was a clause in the law that required players to show up at a casino sportsbook in-person to create mobile betting account creation, an approach that many other states have taken before.
But then, unlike Nevada where the in-person registration requirement is a permanent measure, Illinois had followed Iowa’s lead, giving that section of the sports betting law an 18-month expiration date. This restriction window was introduced to give brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in the Prairie State a leg-up and fair shake over their internet-based counterparts.
Not Much of a Head Start for Land-Based Sports Betting Facilities
The way lawmakers and industry experts in the state saw it, the 18-month period would give land-based books time to establish themselves in the market. Then, after the restriction is lifted one and a half years later, the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks would have a fighting chance against online sports betting juggernauts like Nasdaq-listed DraftKings and FanDuel who already dominate the larger US sports betting industry.
Alas, the plans fell apart in the Prairie state with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic when all land-based casinos had to be closed for three months to control the spread of the highly infectious virus. To prevent a dead-on-arrival situation, the governor made a tactical move by wavering the in-person registration requirement temporarily through an Executive Order on 4th July 2021, and the extensions followed until recently.
Now, considering the 9-month-long temporary waivers and the Coronavirus, the irony of the situation in Illinois is that land-based sports betting facilities never got their head start after all. Well, we could say that the retail books still have 9 months to recover the lost time, but they still face the challenge of limited floor capacities on top of the fact that online mobile sportsbooks have already had enough time to gain the upper hand by far.
In-Person Registration Comeback Could Spell Doom for Illinois’ Sports Betting Industry
Had it not been for the governor’s consistent renewals of mobile registration, the state’s sports betting industry wouldn’t have leaped to the top-four highest monthly handle rankings through fall and winter, behind Pennsylvania, Nevada, and the reigning champion, New Jersey.
Looking at the numbers for Illinois’ sports betting, over 95% of the handle has been coming from online and mobile bettors since the return of professional sports last summer. To date, sportsbooks in the Prairie State have seen a handle of over $2 billion since the launch of sports betting in March 2020. Clearly, from what the numbers indicate, the reinstatement of in-person registrations isn’t going to bode well with the local sports betting industry which had already gained sufficient momentum.
Sportsbook operators and industry stakeholders have already criticized the governor’s move not to renew mobile registration as it will now mean that bettors must drive for hours to a land-based gaming establishment just to create an account. Gov Pritzker should have learned from Iowa’s terrific performance after in-person registration expired at the start of 2021 and stayed the Executive Order to keep the prohibitive requirement at bay.