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BetMGM, Unibet, and theScore tread in New Illinois Landscape

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker moved to allow an executive order to lapse, creating a huge mobile wagering challenge for sports betting operators in the state. In the world of sports betting, often, every decision passed by the state entails rules and regulations that create winners and losers.

Governor Pritzker

Illinois Governor Pritzker; Image: Chris Sweda/Getty Images

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker moved to allow an executive order to lapse, creating a huge mobile wagering challenge for sports betting operators in the state. In the world of sports betting, often, every decision passed by the state entails rules and regulations that create winners and losers. 

After Illinois Governo J.B. Pritzker chose to allow Executive Order 2020-41 to lapse last weekend, a similar effect is being experienced. The effect of this lapse means that bettors within Illinois must register with local casinos for them to access mobile betting applications of their choice. Despite the six sportsbook licenses available in the state, only Barstool Sportsbook mobile operator launched over the past six months.

BetMGM and Unibet are in the process of getting their documentation reviewed by the Illinois Gaming Board. However, Pritzker’s decision to allow the executive order to expire means that BetMGM and Unibet’s fate hangs in the balance. What’s more, the two operators are also at a great disadvantage in attracting customers their way and expanding their market share.

TheScore, the third operator in the picture, despite having an agreement for operating locally in Illinois, is yet to even initiate the licensing process. 

Will BetMGM Operate in Peoria?

Following the ensuing frustrations as a result of Pritzker’s decision to allow the executive order to expire, frustrations could be seen as a BetMGM spokesperson refused to comment on the matter. This is quite understandable considering the fact that the operator has been working on the application process since September 4. All this time, BetMGM has been working on building momentum in nearby states of Michigan and Indiana. 

For a long time now, expectations were that BetMGM would be used as the online skin of Par-A-Dice Casino located in East Peoria, IL, a few miles from Chicago. Originally, FanDuel used its Boyd Gaming connection to Par-A-Dice to ensure it was the casino’s only skin in late August. A move meant to deter DraftKings from dominating the Illinois market. 

In mid-November, FanDuel made it clear that it would transfer its license to Fairmount Park. This was a deal that was part of the rebranding process and eventual racino in Collinsville. The transfer of licensing would also help BetMGM to find its future landing spot in East Peoria. The results are already evident as BetMGM has been among the top three handle generators in Indiana since July, with peaks of about $52.4 million at the beginning of the year.

The company has also competed effectively with other firms in Michigan, and combining this with their tribal partnership has proven beneficial. Between January and February, BetMGM has generated $98 million in handle revenue. This places it third in the market, with DraftKings coming in as second.

Following BetMGM’s remarkable performance, it has a great potential to outdo its rival BetRivers for an overall third spot in Illinois. However, the effect of in-person registration might mean that it could take much longer for this to happen.

Unibet May Lose Out on a Potential Chicago Tie-In through Indiana

Originally, Unibet entered the Illinois market through an agreement with Penn National Gaming that it would be the Argosy Casino’s online skin. While Argosy Casino is closer to St. Louis, Unibet’s online presence makes it a favorite in Chicagoland.

Unibet is also used as the second skin of Horseshoe Hammond. However, it’s considered as the best skin in terms of performance when compared to Caesars Online. Since October, Unibet has generated three times more in handle compared to Caesars. Similarly, it’s highly likely that Eldorado Properties, Caesars’ parent, will divest itself from the location. This is one of the Indiana Gaming Commission’s (IGC) legal requirements to ensure that their merger application is approved. 

Moreover, Unibet’s performance since the resumption of the sports schedule after the pandemic has been at its peak, taking over the Indiana market by a storm. Since launching in July, Unibet will surpass the $10 million mark in the cumulative handle when IGC announces its figures in March. This will mean that the European-based sportsbook will also exceed a $2 million mark in handle revenue generated for the first time. 

It’s also worth noting that Horseshoe Hammond is quite close to the city of Chicago, just like some casinos in Illinois. If timed right, this might be about less than 30 minutes from The Loop with average traffic. Consequently, it’s safe to assume that bettors would definitely consider installing Unibet’s Indiana app if they had been approved to launch before the Executive Order 2020-41 lapsed.

Manuel Stan, the Kindred Group General Manager USA, mentioned that it was an unfortunate turn of events for Unibet following the executive order. This would affect their customers’ decision to install the sportsbook app. However, the general manager was positive that they would revaluate their launch timelines appropriately. 


Once Again, Is it a Big Goose Egg for TheScore?

TheScore, a Canadian-based sportsbook, could be affected by the recent governor’s decision, but the sportsbook has refused to comment on it. Last month TheScore closed a deal with Harrah’s Joliet to operate in the state. Like Unibet, the sportsbook has also earned a reputation for itself as a second skin.

Despite its remarkable performance, TheScore can’t reach DraftKings’ level in terms of representing Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. However, the sportsbook operator is doing its best to compete among other second-tier firms in Indiana. Since mid-September TheScore has brought in about $12 million in handle, it has hit $2.2 million monthly over the past three months.

With theScore looking to launch in the second half of the year 2021, time is key for the sportsbook. Sports betting applications usually take time, which means that the IGB will be quite busy over the coming few months. 

The bill that saw the legalization of sports wagering in mid-2019 also paved the way for the introduction of new casinos in six locations. This was followed by the growth of horse racing tracks into racinos. The horse racing expansion tracks is underway at FanDuel at Fairmount Park and at Hawthorne with PointsBet.

The IGB regulatory board has already considered 815 Entertainment as suitable for a casino situated in Rockford. Well, this is, however, the first of the many required steps. There are six other important steps that will see this process come to an end. This means that the process is indeed a challenge. 

A Shorter Timeframe to Full Remote Online Registration?

One key positive change from Pritzker’s Executive Order 2020-41’s repeated renewals was Illinois meeting its target for being a top-four sports betting market. However, the question is whether Illinois will be in a position to maintain its status as Virginia and Michigan are working hard towards that mobile arena. 

Secondly, there is also the likely benefit of a shorter time required for full remote registration. But the length of how short this might be is unclear. By Sunday, a 10-month period will have passed in the 540-day provision by the Sports Wagering Act requiring the issuance of first wagering licenses to when IGB can accept online wagering license applications. 

After the elapse of this period, it would take another three months (90 days) before IGB declares the bidding process winners. Nevertheless, the law can adjust the deadline to a specified date. Without the online license, sportsbooks can only provide for in-person registration. 

With theScore, Unibet, and BetMGM entering the Illinois market, there is no doubt that this region’s sports betting market will go through a major transformation. How much this change takes shape will largely depend on whether the sportsbooks are patient enough or not.

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