Illinois Issues First Sports-Betting Licenses, Consults On Co-Branding

  • Illinois Gaming Board grants seven sports-betting licenses to casinos
  • IGB administrator says co-branding rule designed to “clarify ambiguity” in state law
  • IGB accepting public comments on branding rule through June 29

The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has granted its first batch of sports-betting licenses, a key step toward what could be a competitive online sports-betting market sooner than many expected.

Seven Illinois casinos were granted four-year master sports-betting licenses during an IGB meeting Thursday, the body’s first meeting since January.

Each of the seven casinos had already received temporary operating permits from the board, with two of the casinos, Argosy Casino in Alton and Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, receiving authorization to begin land-based sports betting just days before the casinos were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The land-based properties remain closed with no set return date, although the board released reopening procedures earlier this week, and companies will need to receive IGB approval before launching their online product.

The granting of the licenses also begins an 18-month clock that has been referred to as the “penalty box,” until three online-only licenses are to be granted by the gaming board.

However, several recent moves may result in the power play for proponents of the provision being over before it starts.

First, the IGB posted a draft emergency rule that effectively permitted co-branding of mobile betting applications, potentially opening the door for casinos to utilize market access deals to allow more popular sports-betting brands to enter the market.

“The purpose of this rule is to clarify ambiguity in the branding provision of the Sports Wagering Act … so that these provisions are implemented, administered, and enforced in a transparent and consistent manner that everyone can understand and follow,” said IGB administrator Marcus Fruchter.

The branding restrictions in the bill were a concession to Illinois-based Rush Street Gaming, which pushed to restrict access for companies like FanDuel and DraftKings due to their past operation in the state despite an opinion from the state attorney general that argued they were operating illegally.

The restrictions required operators to utilize the brand of the casino or racetrack they were operating under, or a brand owned by a company that held at least 80 percent ownership in the property.

The draft emergency rule allows multiple brands to be utilized but requires the parent brand to be “prominently displayed” and outlines several determining factors to meet that requirement.

Fruchter said the IGB will accept public comments until June 29 on the rule before it is submitted for the second time to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

The second move that could prove to alleviate the penalty time for FanDuel and DraftKings, among others, is Governor J.B. Pritzker’s move last week to suspend a requirement in the Sports Wagering Act for players to register for an online betting account in person at a licensed property until the first online-only license is granted by the board.

With casinos still shuttered due to coronavirus, Pritzker issued an executive order suspending the requirement for the duration of his Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations, allowing for immediate remote registration more than a year and a half earlier than expected.

The in-person registration requirement was another major concession to Rush Street Gaming, as it stood to benefit greatly from its location as the casino closest to Chicago, whereas even if some major players chose to launch in the state under different brands, their location would leave them at a disadvantage, at least in the short term.

Without a stricter branding restriction and an in-person registration requirement, the doors to the so-called penalty box could be wide open for operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings, among others, to use their customer databases to gain a foothold in the state much sooner than 18 months and to present a brand much more familiar to customers than their partner casinos.

Of the seven casinos licensed, at least four have tie-ins to more notable brands, including FanDuel through its market access partnership with Boyd Gaming, William Hill has access via Eldorado Resorts’ Grand Victoria Casino, Fox Bet through a deal with Penn National Gaming, and Penn National’s own plan to launch a Barstool Sports-branded platform this fall.

In addition, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines can utilize its BetRivers platform.

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