Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is the first in the state of Illinois to introduce its BetRivers mobile betting app.

The Rivers Casino was also the first casino in the state to open a retail sportsbook on March 9. And now, the legal sportsbook is open again amid the pandemic.

As of Thursday morning, Illinois gamblers were able to participate in sports betting through their mobile devices almost a year after legal sports betting was introduced in Illinois. Governor JB Pritzker signed the law as part of a massive gambling expansion enabling the launch of the state’s first online sportsbook.

Rush Street Interactive has partnered with Rivers Casino to launch the mobile betting app. Their president, Richard Schwartz, said they are excited to bring the first online sportsbook to fans in Illinois and just in time for the return of sports.

First Come, First Served

Neil Bluhm, Rivers Casino’s chairman, will now have first dibs on Illinois’ online sports betting market. As seen in other states where sports betting is legal, the online market takes up a large portion of the industry.

Lobbyists have ensured that Illinois’ gambling law should give priority to the state’s casinos rather than to online-only sports betting platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel. Last spring, Bluhm and other casino executives locked in an 18-month “penalty box” for online-only outlets until they’re able to request licenses, each costing $20 million.

In addition to Rivers, another six casinos were granted licenses last week. The Illinois Gaming Board approved all requests sent in to them as of Thursday morning. Each casino is now able to request approval to begin offering online wagering.

The spread of the coronavirus meant all casinos were shut down because of the quarantine. Rivers Casino and the Argosy Casino Alton had begun accepting in-person wagers at their sportsbooks but had to shut down all gaming operations amid the pandemic only a few days after launch. These casinos are still closed.

Illinois law had originally required participants to register in person at a casino before betting online. Earlier this month, Pritzker issued an executive order removing that requirement in order because of quarantine disabling people from leaving their homes.

Pritzker, the Democratic governor, is eager to see added revenue from the sports betting market. Illinois is in a $2.7 billion deficit after the pandemic stopped normal daily functions for all.

With the governor’s change in policy, Illinois bettors can register for accounts from home through online wagering platforms. Users will be able to start betting almost within just a few minutes.

Not Many Sports

Of course, there will be a lack of contests, as most major American sports are still on hold.

NASCAR and golf have begun “normal” functions but without any spectators. Basketball and hockey have announced that they will be returning later in the summer, while baseball is still negotiating its return.

It is still unknown exactly how each league will change their processes amid the coronavirus, but it is likely that most sports events, if not all, will not have spectators for the time being.

Illinois casinos are generally taxed at 15%, with casinos like Rivers paying an added 2% because of their location. The Gaming Board is continuing to evaluate applications and hopes to start issuing licenses by the fall, although not all casinos will receive licenses immediately.

Pritzker’s administration estimates sports betting will bring in more than $100 million to the state’s economy. Many industry analysts have suggested that Illinois’ market could eventually rival Nevada’s as it continues to grow.