Hard Rock Applies for Illinois Licenses, Joins Crowded Field

Illinois has become one of the more successful sports betting states, with flourishing operators and others waiting for their chance. Hard Rock is the latest applicant.

Hard Rock Applies for Illinois Licenses, Joins Crowded Field

Hard Rock is the latest operator seeking a sports wagering license in Illinois. The Florida-based company submitted an application for both a retail and a mobile license with the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).

The local ownership group in Rockford submitted the brick-and-mortar application; the company has operated a temporary casino since November and just broke ground on a permanent gaming hall not far from the Wisconsin border, according to Sports Handle.

Seminole Hard Rock Digital filed a Management Services Provider application for a mobile license. Some seven operators await a decision on similar applications. Unibet has been in the queue the longest, its application dating back to November 2020.

Circa and Bally Bet submitted their applications in May and September, respectively. Both will be tethered to land-based casinos. Tekkorp Digital Application Corp., doing business as Caliente Interactive, was the only applicant the IGB moved forward for an online-only license at the end of April.

BetMGM is the most recent mobile company to launch in Illinois, back in March. Barstool Sportsbook began taking wagers in Illinois, launching in March, and Barstool Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing are also underway.

Hard Rock hopes to open its casino in November 2023, to beat out a tribal casino opening 25 miles away in Beloit, Wisconsin.

Depending on the IGB’s turnaround time on the Management Services Provider application, Hard Rock could be the closest retail option for central Wisconsin bettors, with the state capital of Madison approximately 55 miles from the Illinois state line. Circa, which is tethered to the Full House Resorts casino in Waukegan in the northeastern part of Illinois, has the potential to draw from the Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee markets.

Wisconsin currently has sports wagering available only through tribal gaming on-site at Oneida Casino in Green Bay and St. Croix Casino in Danbury in the northwest part of the state.

Retail wagering in Illinois has averaged slightly more than $30 million in monthly betting volume in 2022, highlighted by a $43.7 million handle in March. Rivers Casino in Des Plaines just outside of Chicago has attracted the most in-person betting, with $88.5 million in handle which makes up 41.7 percent of the state’s total this year.

In addition to the casinos and mobile sportsbooks, Betfair, FanDuel’s parent, applied for a sports facility sports wagering license for the United Center in Chicago.

There is no time frame for vetting and approval by the IGB, which means the two-story lounge that has been under construction since spring at the arena—home of the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks—will likely open during the upcoming season without betting kiosks or windows and operate only during games.

If approved, the United Center would become the third arena in the U.S. to house sportsbooks, along with Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., and the Footprint Center in Arizona. The latter, home to the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, is also run by FanDuel.

Though the United Center was eligible at the state level to be a license designee with the 2019 gaming expansion bill that legalized sports betting in Illinois, being allowed to offer retail wagering in the city required the Chicago City Council to pass an ordinance in December that lifted a home-rule ban on such activities. That ordinance included a 2 percent tax on revenue from wagers placed at those locations, in addition to the 15 percent collected by the state and 2 percent for Cook County on all wagers placed within the county limits.

Construction is advancing at Wrigley Field, where DraftKings will have a two-story sportsbook expected to accept wagers on opening day next season.

There are three other venues in the city eligible for sports facility sports wagering licenses: Soldier Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, and Wintrust Arena. Wintrust is home to the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.

In related Illinois news, Covid-19 may have put a damper on sports betting, but for the last two years, the state has enjoyed a steady buildup of revenue in its coffers.

“I’m very happy that we have additional money, that this is on the positive side of the equation,” said Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza. “But it’s not anything that I look at as something we could build or forecast our bill payment cycle on.”

The money raised to date—$140 million since March 2020—goes to infrastructure repair and replacement, according to NPR Illinois.

Here’s the breakdown:

Sports betting had just become legal in Illinois on March 9, 2020 when the state’s first legal wager was placed in person at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Covid-19 canceled entire seasons and the bets that went with them. There was enough sports activity to produce a handle of $9 million, from which the state earned $400,000.

With restrictions easing in fiscal year 2021, casinos added in-person options, as bettors forked over $5.1 billion, with $57 million going to the state.

2022 saw the gains continue. The handle topped $8.5 billion with $92 million headed for the state.

It can only get better, said the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability which noted licenses still await takers, and revenue streams from operators in major sporting venues also to be issued.