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Sports betting kicks off Monday in Des Plaines with vow to ‘take March Madness out of the office pool’

Sports gamblers will be limited to the betting window at the brick-and-mortar Rivers sportsbook for awhile, though. The casino’s mobile sports betting application will be available “later this year,” officials say. 

A man watches a baseball game in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino in Las Vegas in 2018.
A man watches a baseball game in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino in Las Vegas in 2018. Rivers Casino Des Plaines plans to launch its sportsbook Monday, with an opening ceremony to lay the first legal wager in Illinois.
John Locher/AP file

The first legal sports bet will be placed in Illinois on Monday, eight months after the industry was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker as part of a massive gambling expansion.

Rivers Casino Des Plaines will hold an opening ceremony Monday morning and lay the first wager at noon, according to a statement from the casino. Former Chicago Blackhawk Eddie Olczyk will be on hand.

“The BetRivers Sportsbook will take March Madness out of the office pool and into an exciting, elevated live sports wagering experience,” Rivers general manager Corey Wise said in a statement. “We are grateful to the Illinois Gaming Board staff for their work approving our sportsbook in time for the college basketball tournament — one of the greatest sports events of the year.”

Rivers had its physical sportsbook location constructed inside the casino months ago while awaiting the green light from state gambling regulators who spent months drafting thousands of pages of rules governing procedures.

BetRivers Sportsbook at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
BetRivers Sportsbook at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
Provided photo.

Six other Illinois casinos and the Fairmount Park racetrack in Downstate Collinsville have applied for sports betting licenses so far. Sports stadiums are also eligible to open them.

The Argosy Casino Alton in southern Illinois is the only other casino in the state that has advertised it would be be up for March Madness when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off March 17. A spokesman did not have details on when the casino’s sportsbook would be up and running.

Argosy, the state’s lowest grossing casino with just $40 million in revenue in 2018, was first in line for an Illinois sportsbook, submitting its license application Jan. 23. Rivers and Grand Victoria in Elgin followed suit the next day.

All three were promptly issued temporary sports betting licenses by the Illinois Gaming Board, allowing them to get their sites ready before regulators gave them the final OK to start laying odds on sports.

The gaming board confirmed Friday that Rivers got the go-ahead.

Rivers Casino Des Plaines is the state’s highest grossing gambling operation, pulling in $440 million in 2018. The Grand Victoria Casino is also one of the state’s most lucrative casinos.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

In its announcement of its Monday sportsbook launch, Rivers touted a “state-of-the-art sports bar with a 47-foot-wide ultra HD LED video wall.” The area includes an “island bar” seating 32 and featuring “bar-top video poker games” in addition to table seating and 14 additional TV screens “offering patrons a panoramic view of live sports events.”

Sports gamblers will be limited to the betting window at the brick-and-mortar Rivers sportsbook for awhile, though. The casino’s mobile sports betting application will be available “later this year,” officials say.

Mobile betting provides the bulk of the handle in other states that have launched sports betting since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to it. Bettors have put down more than $500 million in Indiana since that state launched sports betting in September.

Sports betting was introduced in Illinois as part of the gambling expansion law Pritzker signed in late June.

The governor’s office projects the industry to pump about $60 million into state coffers each year to support Pritzker’s statewide capital plan.

Industry analysts say Illinois’ sports betting market could rival Nevada’s within a few years of launch, with a predicted yearly handle topping $5 billion.

Illinois has been behind Indiana, which has collected about $5 million in tax revenue since sports betting went live there in September. Much of that handle came from the Hoosier state’s Chicago-area casinos.

And even though you’ll be able to legally bet in time for March Madness, don’t plan on laying any money on any home-state favorites, since the new law bans betting on Illinois collegiate teams.