New Illinois sports betting market already topping Indiana with $285 million handle

After a pandemic-spoiled launch, Illinois has quickly surpassed Indiana to become the sports betting capital of the Midwest, the latest state gambling revenue figures show.

Illinois bettors plunked down more than $285 million on sports contests during September, which was just the third full month the industry has been live in the state.

That easily tops the Hoosier handle of about $208 million in September and $231 million in October. The Illinois Gaming Board released the September report on Friday, but it has yet to release October figures.

Illinois’ other new neighboring markets drew bets totaling just $82 million in Iowa and $46 million in Michigan through October.

Since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to legal sports betting beyond Nevada, a total of 20 states now host legitimate sportsbooks, with New Jersey leading the way. The Garden State posted an all-time high $803 million handle in October.

Industry analysts who have long salivated over the potential of a sport-crazed state such as Illinois estimate it could eventually rival Nevada with annual handles projected to top $5 billion within a few years.

Guests mingle in the Circa Sportsbook last month in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The black-tie and evening gown crowd mingle in the Circa Sportsbook during the grand opening of Circa Resort & Casino last month in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Circa Resort & Casino

And since Illinois’ first bet was placed in early March — just days before COVID-19 turned life upside down — it’s seen exponential early growth, with monthly handles of about $53 million in July and $140 million in August.

That’s largely due to the advent of mobile betting. While the state law that legalized sports betting initially required gamblers to register for accounts in person at a casino, Gov. J.B. Pritzker eased that rule amid the pandemic, allowing bettors to register online from their phones — and start wagering immediately. More than 92% of Illinois’ September bets were wagered from mobile devices.

Seven of the state’s casinos and one horse racing track — Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney — have licensed sportsbooks. Illinois’ most lucrative casino and its first to start taking sports bets, Rivers in Des Plaines, continued to lead the way in September, accepting about $105 million in wagers.

BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, opens to the public at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in March.

BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, opens to the public at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in March.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

But two other casinos that have partnered with behemoth mobile sports betting companies are quickly closing the gap. The newly christened DraftKings at Casino Queen in downstate East St. Louis handled about $92 million, while the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria took about $75 million in bets through FanDuel.

Statewide, the sportsbooks came out on top by about $11 million on bets that were settled in September, generating about $1 million in state tax revenue with another $82,000 going to Cook County government.

The industry has generated about $3 million in tax revenue in its first three full months. Pritzker’s office has suggested it could eventually pump upwards of $100 million into state coffers every year.

Baseball so far has drawn the most interest from Illinois bettors (3.2 million bets totaling $133 million from June through September), though football will surely soon overtake it (2.7 million bets totaling $92 million).

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