When the Coronavirus pandemic shuttered casinos across the country the industry quickly shifted to Plan B. Unfortunately, the gaming industry in most locales doesn’t have a Plan B.
So, while New Jersey and Pennsylvania kept gaming dollars flowing through online casino and online poker, states like Illinois just took it on the chin.
With the restart of sports, the state’s Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to make sure Illinois sportsbooks are ready to take bets, lockdown, or no lockdown.
Gov. Pritzker recently issued an executive order that included a provision easing restrictions on the state’s burgeoning sports betting industry.
Here’s the relevant section of Executive Order 2020-41:
Section 1. During the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations, the provisions in the Sports Wagering Act, 230 ILCS 45/25-30(f), 25-35(f), and 25-40(i), requiring in-person creation of a sports wagering account at a facility authorized pursuant to the Act in order to participate in sports wagering offered over the internet or through a mobile application, are suspended.
One Order, Plenty of Questions
The executive order raises several, connected questions:
- When will online sportsbooks go live in Illinois?
- Is the order really going to be temporary?
- Is the executive order picking winners in the market?
Illinois Doesn’t Have Online Sports Betting… Yet
There’s an important caveat with Pritzker’s order lifting in-person registration. To date, Illinois hasn’t issued an online sports betting license. The state’s sports betting law called for an 18-month moratorium on mobile-only operators, and with it, an 18-month prohibition on remote registration.
A couple of Illinois casinos have received temporary authorization to operate land-based sportsbooks. Still, the soonest an online sportsbook might receive approval is later this week, at the next Illinois Gaming Board meeting on June 11. When an Illinois online sports betting site might launch is anyone’s guess.
Along the same lines, states and land-based casinos are on the road to reopening. So how long will the temporary removal of in-person registration last?
Which brings us to the second question…
Is This Really a Temporary Order?
The order says, “During the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamations,” but removing the in-person registration requirement seems like a classic example of putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
It seems problematic to remove the in-person registration for a short period and then reinstitute it for a few months before it sunsets again.
And that leads into the third question…
Does the Order Pick Winners?
The removal of the in-person registration requirement for a short window would benefit any operators that can get up and running, and those operators would have a considerable head start on their competitors if the mandate is reinstituted later.
The likely outcome would be a rush of Illinoisans registering accounts remotely at any site they can during the temporary removal of the in-person registration requirement. If the in-person mandate returns say three months later, the second wave of operators would be competing on an uneven playing field. Most customers would already have accounts and are less likely to switch if they have to drive to a casino to open a new account. Basically, the initial rush of remote registrations would slow to a trickle of in-person registrations.
Additionally, the mobile-only operators expected to compete under a synchronized launch of remote registration. Under Pritzker’s guidelines, some operators would be able to get a head start on remote signups, and have several months to build a relationship with those customers.
States Have an Abundance of Reasons to Embrace Online Gambling
As if that wasn’t enough, the emergency order also raises another question that my colleague Ryan Butler tackled in his column earlier this week: Will other states follow suit and fast track online gambling?
Without beating a dead horse, the reasons to embrace online gambling are numerous and well-known. But this is the first time a governor has decided to accelerate the process and take action to remove what many believe are unnecessary restrictions on the market.
And sometimes all it takes is for that first domino to fall. Gov. Pritzker’s decision could very well lead to other states looking at ways they can bring online gambling to their state, legislatively, through executive order, or existing means.
One example is state lotteries that have the authority to launch online games without legislative approval. As Gov. Pritzker demonstrated, there are also other ways if you’re interested in looking.