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Booming Illinois sports betting market is now nation’s 4th largest with $435M handle in October

Since the state’s first legal bet was placed in March — just a few days before the pandemic shut down most of the economy — Illinoisans have wagered more than $941 million on sporting events.

BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, pictured upon launching March 9 at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Illinois gambler have wagered almost $1 billion since then.
BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, opened March 9 at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Illinois gamblers have wagered nearly $1 billion since then.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Even though COVID-19 spoiled the launch of Illinois’ new legal sports betting industry, the state has quickly vaulted to become the fourth-largest market in the nation.

Gamblers made wagers totaling about $435 million in October, which was just the fourth full month of betting operations in the state, according to figures released Thursday by the Illinois Gaming Board.

That marked a 43% jump in handle — or the total amount of money wagered — compared to September, when Illinois bettors put down about $305 million in bets.

From that whopping handle, the house came out on top by about $42 million in October, generating about $6.3 million in state tax revenue and pumping about a half-million more into Cook County coffers.

Since the state’s first legal bet was placed in March — just a few days before the pandemic shut down most of the economy and most sporting events — Illinoisans have wagered a total of more than $941 million on sporting events. Analysts have estimated Illinois’ yearly handle could surpass $5 billion within a few years.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to legal sports betting outside Nevada, and the industry is currently operating in 19 states and Washington, D.C.

Illinois’ October handle trailed only those of Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Jersey, which took in the nation’s all-time high of $932 million in bets last month.

But Illinois’ market has grown more rapidly than those other states, where it took more than a year from launch for them to report more than $430 million in monthly handle, according to analysts at the sports betting website PlayUSA.com.

The pandemic has driven much of that growth. Illinois’ sports wagering law requires bettors to register in person at a casino before they can place wagers online with their mobile devices.

With casinos closed due to COVID-19, that requirement was suspended by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is eager for any revenue stream as the state faces a massive budget shortfall. More than 94% of the state’s October handle was wagered online.

It’s also opened the door to online betting giants like DraftKings, which partnered with the downstate Casino Queen to accept $141 million in October bets, the most of any of the state’s eight sportsbooks. That was followed by $116 million in handle for Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and $106 million for the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria, which is partnered with the massive online betting company FanDuel.

Statewide, football drew the most interest, with about $191 million in bets, followed by $62 million on baseball, $29 million on soccer, $21 million on tennis and $18 million on basketball.