Sportsbook next on tap for rapidly expanding Rivers Casino

The state’s highest-grossing casino has launched land-based operations, and it’s ready to launch sports betting whenever state regulators are.

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Rivers Casino, 3000 S. River Road, Des Plaines.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines

Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot labors to get a Chicago mega-casino off the ground, executives at the state’s most lucrative “riverboat” casino have leapt to land in Des Plaines — and they’re poised to keep gaining ground with Illinois’ gambling expansion. 

Rivers Casino was the first gambling mecca to receive Illinois Gaming Board approval to become a land-based casino last month as allowed under the state’s new gaming law.

They’re already adding slots and table games under the law that also raised casinos’ maximum number of gaming positions from 1,200 to 2,000.

And Rivers is ready to go all-in on sports betting, just like the state’s other casinos, racetracks and large stadiums, not to mention fans eager to get in on the action.

All they need is for the newly legal industry to go live in Illinois, a process that’s only starting to come into focus six months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the gambling expansion into law. State regulators had pledged to release applications for sports betting operators before a Gaming Board meeting Thursday. 

The delay hasn’t stopped Rivers from renovating a former nightclub space into a 4,840-square-foot sportsbook — ahem, or BetRivers SportsBar as it’s called for now — until the casino gets a green light from the state to start taking sports bets. The Gaming Board is still drafting thousands of pages of rules governing the industry. 

Artist’s rendering of the BetRivers SportsBar.

Artist’s rendering of the BetRivers SportsBar.

Courtesy of DMAC Architecture

“We want to be prepared and primed to take advantage once we know what the requirements are,” Rivers General Manager Corey Wise said last week during a walk-through of the sportsbook-to-be. “We’re ready to go once the state is ready to go.”

With a 47-foot-wide LED video wall beaming in dozens of games, a row of leather loungers and a ticker-tape stream of scores broadcasting around the bar, you can forgive the mistaken gamblers who strode up to the sports bar within minutes of its opening Friday morning and asked where they could bet on the Bears. 

Artist’s rendering of the BetRivers SportsBar.

Artist’s rendering of the BetRivers SportsBar.

Courtesy of DMAC Architecture

But no one ever would have mistaken the sprawling Rivers gambling floor, its massive building or parking lots off the Tri-State Tollway for a boat. That’s exactly what it was until last month, though, as far as Illinois law was concerned. 

Casinos were introduced to Illinois waterways in 1991 under a law that required gambling to take place on a moving boat. State lawmakers gradually eased restrictions over the years, allowing for Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos to operate while docked or even permanently moored. 

To sail through that loophole, architects worked a 44,000-square-foot, 6-inch-deep water pit into the foundation of Rivers Casino, allowing it to open in Des Plaines in 2011. 

The new gambling law allows casinos to apply for a $250,000 land-based casino license, which is what Rivers was granted Nov. 22. 

That has allowed them to add more slots and table games to areas that aren’t situated over the 144,000-gallon water pit — a jackpot for a casino that has raked in nearly $406 million so far in 2019, more than double the state’s next highest grossing casino. They’ve added about 150 new gaming positions, and plan to eventually max out with 2,000. 

As for Rivers’ water pit? 

“I suppose we’ll drain it at some point,” Wise said. “That’s not our top priority at the moment.”

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