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Sports betting inches toward launch in Illinois

Casinos, racetracks and pro sports stadiums can now apply to open sportsbooks, but there’s still no sure bet for when gamblers can put money down on the Bears or Bulls.

A gambler places a bet at a Rhode Island sportsbook last month.
A gambler places a bet at a Rhode Island sportsbook last month.
AP Photos

Sports bettors are one step closer to putting legitimate money down in Illinois as state gambling regulators released applications Thursday for casinos, racetracks and large stadiums that want to open sportsbooks.

While those operators have been champing at the bit to start laying odds, Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter still declined to estimate when the industry might go live.

The sports wagering applications and a series of rules governing them were released just shy of six months after sports betting was legalized with the stroke of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pen as part of a massive gambling expansion passed in the spring.

Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter.
Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter.
Victor Hilitski / Sun-Times

Fruchter said his agency will release a second phase of rules on operation procedures early next year and will then start issuing temporary permits “in a timely manner.”

The state’s 10 existing casinos, three racetracks and up to seven 17,000-plus-capacity sports venues are eligible to apply for the $10 million sports wagering licenses.

Under the new gambling law, online-only sports betting websites like DraftKings and FanDuel are cut out of the initial action. Such companies have to wait 18 months before they can apply for one of three online-only sports betting licenses at a whopping $20 million a pop.

Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks can set up their own mobile sports betting applications in the meantime, though. Most casinos, racetracks and Chicago’s major professional sports teams have indicated they’ll apply for the first batch of sports-betting licenses.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, the Riverside Democrat who shepherded the sports wagering legislation, called it “a good day for sports fans in Illinois.

“Hopefully potential licensees can have their applications reviewed carefully but expeditiously so that bettors can participate in the market in a safe and legal way in the near future,” said Zalewski, who initially estimated a launch in time for the Super Bowl in February.

March Madness might be a safer bet, but it’s no lock. Regulators have drawn the ire of bettors and some state legislators over the pace of the rollout, as gamblers have plunked down more than $270 million in neighboring Indiana in three months since the industry went live there.

“There’s not a timeline because we don’t want to set goals or deadlines that are arbitrary. The goal here is to get a process and a sports wagering system that is correct,” Fruchter said.

The next Gaming Board meeting is slated for Jan. 30.