Illinois online sportsbooks ended 2020 on the highest note yet, pushing the statewide handle to nearly $500 million in monthly wagering and ending the industry’s inaugural year with nearly $2 billion in bets even as retail casinos remained closed in December. But even as the book on 2020 closes, brisk betting on February’s Super Bowl signals an even bigger year ahead, according to PlayIllinois, which offers news and analysis of the state’s gaming industry.
“No state has made a bigger splash in its first year of regulated sports betting than Illinois,” said Jessica Welman, analyst for PlayIllinois.com. “But with growth that is expected of any fledgling market, combined with, hopefully, a return to more normal life for everyone, 2020 should be a prologue to a year that has the potential of being one of the most lucrative for any legal jurisdiction. The caveat is, though, that a lifting of the current suspension of the state’s in-person registration requirements would have a chilling effect throughout the market.”
With retail sportsbooks closed, Illinois online operators attracted $491.7 million in bets in December, according to official data released Monday. That is up 8.6% from $449.2 million in November and represents the fourth-largest handle in the U.S. for the month, behind New Jersey ($996.3 million), Nevada ($588 million), and Pennsylvania ($548.6 million).
December’s bets produced $28.4 million in operator revenue, down from $41.3 million in November. That yielded $3.6 million in taxes for the state.
Despite a pandemic that slowed the launch of sports betting until July and deeply impacted retail sportsbooks, Illinois’ retail and online sportsbooks for all of 2020 produced:
- $1.9 billion in wagers.
- $125.5 million in taxable revenue.
- $20.2 million in state and local taxes.
Despite the historic start, the best is likely yet to come. Bets on February’s Super Bowl, for instance, reached $45.6 million, fourth most among states that released data following the game.
“With results that have rivaled far more established markets, it might be easy to forget that Illinois is still nowhere near its maturity as a market,” said Joe Boozell, analyst for PlayIllinois.com. “The state is still very much ramping up, but there is no question that Illinois will be an increasing force in the industry.”
December’s results were helped by the playoff run of the Chicago Bears, which spurred football betting to $204.4 million, or 41.6% of the state’s handle. College basketball and the opening of the NBA season vaulted basketball betting to No. 2 with $441.2 million, or 29.3% of Illinois’ handle.
Illinois’ sportsbooks are also getting more creative, which should help bolster their bottom line. Some sportsbooks are now offering odds on where major NFL free agents will eventually sign, the kind of unconventional bet that has made its way to only a handful of states.
“Unconventional bets, prop or otherwise, are more than a fun curiosity for sportsbooks,” Welman said. “They offer new ways for consumers to engage, especially during a sport’s offseason. That is especially true for football betting, which commands more action than any other sport.”
With a $195.4 million handle, DraftKings/Casino Queen accounted for 40% of the state’s overall handle. DraftKings’ month was up from $166 million overall and $164.1 million online in November. FanDuel/Par-A-Dice Casino moved to No. 2 with $144.5 million in December, up from $113.5 million overall and $113.3 million online in November. BetRivers/Rivers Casino slipped to No. 3 with $111.2 million, down from $133.2 million overall and $125 million online in November.
New brands, most notably Penn National’s Barstool-branded app, which is among the most popular in Pennsylvania, will reach new customers and open new sources of revenue, and that will raise expectations for the state.
“The more robust the roster of operators in the state, the better it is for customers,” Boozell said. “The Barstool app should be an important addition, capable of not only grabbing a significant share of the market, but also helping to grow the pie for all.”
For more information and analysis on regulated sports betting in Illinois, visit PlayIllinois.com/news.