Thousands of Bears fans will make their way to Soldier Field Sept. 5 to witness the team’s latest grudge match against the Green Bay Packers.
But instead of trying to score tickets or plunking down on the couch to watch on TV, it’s a safe bet that scores of additional die-hards will trek a mile across the Indiana border to the Horseshoe Hammond Casino, where they’ll be able to put down the Chicago area’s first-ever legal wagers on the nearly century-old rivalry.
While the Illinois Gaming Board scrambles to draft regulations on sports betting — not to mention a mountain of additional legal wrangling sprung from the state’s mammoth gambling expansion — executives at the Indiana casino that’s just a 25-minute drive from the Loop plan to announce Monday their new sports book will launch Sept. 4, a day ahead of the NFL kickoff.
For Hoosier casino interests that rake in an estimated $260 million from Illinois gamblers every year, it’s just the latest time they’ve beaten Illinois to the punch in tapping the betting market.
“This is a huge opportunity for us and for Indiana,” said Dan Nita, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, the corporate casino giant that owns Horseshoe. “We’ve worked really hard to get this ready, and we’re excited to share it with fans on both sides of the state border who have wanted this for a long time.”
Branded as “The Book,” Horseshoe’s 5,300-square-foot wagering shop will be housed on the casino’s main floor, complete with six betting counters, lounge chairs, couches and more than a dozen 85-inch LED televisions beaming in sports from across the country and world.
Construction crews are still hammering away to have the Chicago area’s first sports book ready in time for the Horseshoe opening, a swift turnaround barely four months after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill legalizing sports betting. Online wagering is expected to be ready later this year.
“We worked really closely with the Indiana Gaming Commission to stay on track, and we’re thrilled to be ready to go for football season,” Nita said.
Of course, Illinois bettors eager to lay wagers on the White Sox or Cubs before Sept. 4 could also pack up for a road trip.
Iowa on Thursday became the first Midwest state to launch sports betting, with its closest book to Chicago being a three-hour drive to the banks of the Mississippi River, at the Isle Casino Bettendorf’s William Hill Sports Book.
And before Horseshoe, a handful of Caesars casinos and off-track betting parlors in other corners of Indiana will start taking sports bets starting Sept. 1, Nita said.
Meanwhile, Illinois regulators have yet to set a timeline for wagering here, though Gov. J.B. Pritzker legalized the industry with his signature in late June.
Unlike the Indiana law, which required regulators to have sports-betting procedures in place by Sept. 1, the Illinois statute doesn’t spell out any hard deadlines. And regulators here aren’t about to make any drastic movement as they simultaneously set the framework for a sweeping expansion that includes six new casinos and thousands of new video gaming terminals.
“We’re following a process, and we’re going through and making sure we have the right approach for the state,” administrator Marcus Fruchter said after a recent Illinois Gaming Board meeting.
Drivers can expect to soon see Horseshoe touting their head start on sports betting with billboards along Chicago roads.
“We’re ready to welcome Illinois bettors with open arms and give them a world-class experience like we always have,” Nita said.