Chicago's Rivers Casino is one of three Illinois sportsbooks readying to launch sports betting.

  • Chicago’s Rivers Casino is racing to fill out a full sportsbook staff in time for March Madness.
  • Illinois legalized sports betting in 2019 but has struggled to achieve a full launch.
  • Sports betting in Illinois could be a multi-billion-dollar industry.

DES PLAINES, Ill. – Three casinos have been issued temporary licenses to operate IL sportsbooks and have begun hiring staff in preparation of a full launch months after Illinois passed its Sports Wagering Act.

The 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a little over a month away, and officials in the state are cautiously optimistic that sports betting in Illinois will be operational in time to field March Madness bets.

The Rivers Casino, located in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, has already built the infrastructure for its sportsbook just off its main gaming floor. On Tuesday, the company hosted a job fair looking to hire a 20-member staff to operate its sportsbook.

Jose Enriquez, a 24-year-old student at nearby Elgin Community College was the first employee hired by Rivers. The casino’s goal was to hire a full staff on the spot at the fair, but it is unclear if it successfully did so.

The other two casinos that received temporary licenses, Argosy Casino in Alton and Grand Victoria in Elgin, are also aiming to launch before March Madness. Argosy is set to host its own job fair today.

Rivers has not yet announced an official launch date, but General Manager Corey Wise said the company is “hopeful” that it can begin accepting bets before to the NCAA Tournament’s March 17 tip-off.

While only these three casinos have filed for a sportsbook license since the passage of the Sports Wagering Act, 20 total facilities—10 casinos, three horse racing tracks and seven major sports venues— in Illinois are eligible to apply for licenses under the new law.

Potential Impact Of Sports Betting In Illinois

With a population of over 12.7 million people, one of the country’s largest metropolitan markets (Chicago), and five major professional sports teams, Illinois is poised to be a lucrative sports betting market.

Legal sports betting in Iowa, which neighbors Illinois, launched in August 2019 and handled over $200 million in bets from August to December. Averaged out over a full year, this represents an impressive per capita handle of $161.38.

Iowa’s population is less than one-fourth that of Illinois, and the state boasts no professional sports teams and no major tourism industry. In other words, Illinois appears primed to greatly exceed Iowa’s per capita figure. Chicago alone received nearly 58 million visitors in 2018.

Even a conservative estimate still projects sportsbooks in Illinois to handle over $2 billion annually. Using the national average hold percentage of 6.92%, this would create $142.3 million in revenue. With the 15% tax mandated by the Sports Wagering Act, this would generate Illinois $21.3 million in tax revenue.

It remains to be seen how quickly other facilities in Illinois will adopt sportsbooks of their own. The state’s laws require unusually high license fees that can exceed $5 million, and launching a sportsbook is already an expensive endeavor on its own.

There are 13 Division I basketball programs in Illinois. Per Gracenote’s Global Sports Data, six of these programs have at least a small chance to have 2020 March Madness odds:

  • University of Illinois – 68% chance to make the tournament
  • University of Loyola-Chicago – 18%
  • Bradley University – 13%
  • Northern Illinois University – 7%
  • Southern Illinois University – 5%
  • University of Illinois-Chicago – 5%
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