Bet nyet! Illinois Gaming Board pulls plug on Russian sports betting following Ukraine invasion

Many sportsbooks previously pulled Russian contests from the board in the days after the Feb. 24 invasion, as a growing number of U.S. businesses face pressure to sever ties with any interests in the country.

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The BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, pictured at its March 2020 opening in Des Plaines. Illinoisans have bet $1.4 billion since then.

The BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, pictured at its March 2020 opening in Des Plaines.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

While President Joe Biden is going after Russian oligarchs’ bank accounts, Illinois gambling regulators are going after their sports betting markets.

In a largely symbolic declaration issued two weeks after the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter on Thursday banned the state’s sportsbooks from laying odds on Russian contests, calling it “contrary to public policy.”

Fruchter’s edict means casinos can’t take bets on “any sports event, league or competition” in Russia or Belarus, the eastern European nation that has aided Russian President Vladimir Putin in his violent assault on Ukraine.

“I have determined that wagering in Illinois on such sports poses a significant likelihood of serious risks to the integrity of the Illinois sports wagering industry,” Fruchter said during a virtual Gaming Board meeting. “We hope that peace will soon prevail.”

Many sportsbooks previously pulled Russian contests from the board in the days after the Feb. 24 invasion, as a growing number of U.S. businesses face pressure to sever ties with any interests in the country.

Marcus Fruchter, Illinois Gaming Board administrator, left, in 2019; Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, on Thursday,

Marcus Fruchter, Illinois Gaming Board administrator, left, in 2019; Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, on Thursday,

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times; Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

It’s not clear how many Illinois bettors actually were wagering on Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League or other Moscow-adjacent events, anyway. The Gaming Board tracks bets placed by sport, but not by league.

It’s safe to say gamblers in the state will make do. Illinois gamblers have plunked down almost $10 billion on sports since the legitimate industry launched in March of 2020. That includes a record-breaking monthly handle, or total amount of money wagered, of more than $867 million in January.

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