Pritzker Ends Mobile Registration for Sports Betting as COVID Cases Rise in Illinois

Posted on: April 4, 2021, 05:51h. 

Last updated on: April 5, 2021, 10:04h.

UPDATED (4/5 1 pm ET) – To include quote from Illinois Casino Gaming Association on mobile registration issue.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has allowed a COVID-19 emergency regulation that allowed sports bettors to register for online apps remotely to sunset. That means that as of Sunday, gamblers who want to bet using their phones, but don’t have the requisite app to do it, will need to travel to the participating casino first.

J.B. Pritker
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the state fairgrounds in Springfield on March 24. On Friday, he announced he was ending an emergency order allowing sports bettors to register online for mobile wagering accounts. (Image: GovPritzker/Twitter)

It’s not the first time the Democratic governor has ended the provision. He initially created it last June, when major sporting events were returning to action, but the state’s casinos remained closed. By late July, as casinos reopened, the governor ended the provision. However, Pritzker reversed course in late August when an uptick in COVID cases prompted the state to reduce operating hours at some casinos.

When Illinois passed its sports betting law in 2019, it allowed sportsbooks to offer mobile apps. But the law required bettors to physically travel to casinos to register first. That was a nod to some casino operators, who feared mobile-only operators would dominate the market.

By law, the in-person registration requirement is supposed to be in effect until a mobile-only operator is selected. The earliest that can happen is next year.

Illinois Sportsbooks Call for In-Person Registration to End

FanDuel and DraftKings, the initial targets for the mobile-only requirement, responded by establishing partnerships with casinos and racetracks to avoid the delay. However, those partnerships are with downstate venues, hours away from Chicago, home to most of the state’s population.

When Pritzker lifted the restriction, it enabled them to dominate the market. In January, those two outfits held nearly 72 percent of the state market.

Not surprisingly, their representatives were among the harshest critics of Pritzker’s latest move.

Upset about this? So are we!” tweeted Illinois lobbyist Jeremy Kudon, who represents some of the largest sportsbooks in the state. “FanDuel and DraftKings fought tooth and nail to keep an in-person signup mandate out of the original law. And we will fight to change it for good.”

It’s unknown just how many customers both sportsbooks have in the state. And while the move shouldn’t necessarily knock DraftKings or FanDuel from their perches, their inability to easily register new bettors may hinder growth in a state that positioned itself almost immediately as a top five market.

Others chirping about this on Twitter included Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who posted a video offering specials for people who registered before the mobile registration order ended on Saturday night.

They’re not alone. Tom Swoik, executive director for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association told Monday that “the majority of my members want mobile registration.”

Rising COVID-19 Cases May Retrigger Restrictions

Pritzker’s order is a little head-scratching, considering that key COVID statistics in Illinois are on the rise.

The number of new cases daily have exceeded 2,000 every day except for one since March 24, according to information from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Hospitalizations are on the rise as well.

The numbers are rising high enough that health officials in Cook County, the state’s largest, are saying that business restrictions could resume if the trends don’t reverse course in the near future.

“We’ve seen over 600 new cases in suburban Cook in our jurisdiction alone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, Cook County’s senior medical officer told Chicago’s ABC7. “And so that means that we are in the beginnings of another surge.”

Rubin added that that could lead to renewing restrictions on indoor activities if the data shows they are responsible for the increased caseloads.

Swoik said the casino association is watching the caseload numbers closely and hopeful they’ll start trending downwards.