Illinois sports betting made its presence known in a hurry. On Friday, the state’s gaming board released its wagering totals for September, and bettors there generated a handle of $305.2 million. That establishes the Land of Lincoln as the fourth- biggest sports betting state in the country, behind only New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
The handle also sets a high bar for how sports betting will likely proceed in the state. Given that several states have already released October numbers, and October handles in New Jersey and Indiana have already topped what were record- breakers in September, it seems almost a certainty that Illinois will follow suit.
Not only did Illinois bet in a big way, bettors there did so mainly through their phones or other mobile devices. Of the $305.2 million wagered, $283.1 million – or 92.7 percent – was done so online. And nearly all of those bets were placed with three sportsbooks.
BetRivers, the grandaddy of Illinois sports betting, having opened its retail sportsbook in March and launched online in June, took $112.7 million in bets, with $98.6 million of that online. DraftKings, which went online in early August, got $95.9 million of its $98.3 million handle online, and FanDuel, which launched at the end of August, reported a handle of $78.6 million. All but about $200,000 of that was wagered online.
While there were hundreds of millions wagered, a scant portion of that actually made its way onto the sportsbooks’ revenue sheets. All eight of the state’s online and retail sportsbooks reported adjusted gross revenues of $6.8 million. The state’s 15 percent tax gives the state a little more than $1 million.
Of the revenues, $4.1 million was generated in Cook County, which means the county home to Chicago will receive slightly more than $82,000 in taxes.
The small revenue figure is likely a product of initial bonuses sportsbooks gave to customers for registering accounts or making deposits or special promotional opportunities, like FanDuel’s “Spread the Love” games.
Given the overwhelming success that mobile sports betting enjoyed in Illinois, it’s easy to forget that online apps weren’t necessarily supposed to enjoy this kind of dominance this early.
When Illinois legalized sports betting, lawmakers did so with the intent of requiring in-person registration for mobile accounts. That means, if customers wanted to use a particular app online, they would first have to physically go to the casino itself.
However, the COVID-19 crisis enabled Gov. J.B. Pritzker to waive the in-person requirement for now. He first did so in June, and after letting in lapse in late July, he reissued the waiver in August. That meant that instead of having to go to East St. Louis or Peoria to start betting with DraftKings or FanDuel, bettors across the state could stay home and sign up online.
As a COVID-19 emergency order, Pritzker has to reissue it every month, and on Friday he extended the order. The extension comes as all of the state’s casinos are under restrictions that limit their hours of operation because of the volume of COVID cases across the state.
What remains to be seen is if state lawmakers will look to make the registration waiver permanent, or if they and Pritzker will let it go back in effect once the pandemic is under control.
DraftKings held its third quarter call with investment analysts on Friday, and leadership did not downplay the importance Illinois, home to teams in all four major professional leagues, will have on its bottom line.
Illinois has now become our second-largest state by handle behind New Jersey,” said Cofounder and CEO Jason Robins to analysts. “It’s also our fastest growing state. So we’re pretty excited about it. I think you’ll start to see some contribution on the revenue side in Q4. Usually the first couple months of a new state launch, we don’t see a whole lot of contribution on the revenue side.”
DraftKings currently has a mobile sports betting presence in nine states and a retail-only presence in two others. Of its mobile states, Illinois has the largest population, just slightly more than Pennsylvania. New York, which is home to a DraftKings retail sportsbook, is significantly larger. But the retail book is in upstate New York, too far from New York City, which is why Big Apple bettors trek across to New Jersey to make their wagers.
Robins noted that his company’s growth in Illinois was due primarily to the fact that most users didn’t have to make the trek to the DraftKings at Casino Queen East St. Louis – a nearly five-hour drive one-way from Chicago – just to sign up.
“That has taken Illinois from barely a market that registers for us to our second-largest market… So I think it’s a pretty big deal whether that continues to be extended for several months, and that could have a significant impact on our customer acquisition, and therefore, on our revenue for next year,” he said.