Illinois online sports betting
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The arrival of Illinois online sports betting may come earlier than initially expected.

As lingering concerns over COVID-19 persist, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker reversed course yesterday on the state’s 18-month in-person betting registration requirement by signing Executive Order 2020-41.

In response to ongoing concerns over limiting the spread of COVID-19 following his prior declaration of Illinois as a disaster area, Pritzker effectively suspended the in-person registration process.

Per the order:

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.

While the long term picture remains unclear, this move could signal a more immediate launch of the state’s online betting operation. It could also open the door for DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook, which lawmakers effectively blocked because of their continued daily fantasy operations in the state after it was ruled as a form of unauthorized gambling.

While it is admittedly difficult to find an instance in which the recent pandemic has been helpful to the sports betting industry, Illinois could ultimately prove to be the exception.

In short, after watching its March sports betting launch, which was limited only to retail locations, unexpectedly come to a halt amid unprecedented sports and casino shutdowns, Illinois could now be positioned to capitalize big on a looming restart.

Coming Soon: Illinois Online Sports Betting?

There are two ways to view the news of Pritzker signing Executive Order 2020-41.

Lifting the in-person requirement could a short-term measure that is reinstated when authorities open casinos and scale back social distancing policies. Essentially, it could be viewed as an additional protective layer as the state works its way back from a historic shutdown. While one likely byproduct is mobile access, it could be short-lived.

On the other hand, Executive Order 2020-41 could open the floodgates for Illinois online sports betting.

Ultimately, it’s all about demand–and the revenue dollars that come with such demand. Once Pritzker and other top state officials get a taste of the online betting tax windfall–one that would come following great economic hardship–it may prove to be very difficult to go back.

States such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey have enjoyed tremendous additional revenue without in-person registrations, while Colorado’s platform had a strong first month despite the general absence of mainstream sports.

As Sports Return, Illinois Could Score Big

It’s not hard to imagine in a scenario in which Illinois launches its online sports betting platform and enjoys immediate success.

The NBA plans to relaunch on July 31 with a short slate of high-stakes regular season games followed by postseason play, while the NHL will return with an innovative playoff format. Major League Baseball, despite its current labor standoff with the MLBPA, could also start its season in July.

Combine the presence of those prominent leagues with staples such as The Masters, The Kentucky Derby, and the impending NFL and college football seasons, and, well, the demand could not possibly be higher at launch in a state that features a rabid sports fanbase.

As such, Thursday’s news opens the door for this possibility. Whether or not lawmakers choose to double down and capitalize on the opportunity remains to be seen.

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