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Illinois sports betting market could rival Nevada's -- once it finally launches

3rd December, 03:49

Sports betting was a pet project of Gov. J.B. Pritzker as part of Illinois' sprawling gambling expansion law that passed over the summer, and lucrative industry projections from companies aiming to stake out an early cut of the action help explain why.

State gambling regulators still haven't set a timeline for when sports betting will be operational in Illinois, but once it is, fans could soon be shelling out almost as much money every year here as in Nevada, by one company's estimate.

Nearly $5.2 billion could be wagered on sports in Illinois in 2023, according to a forecast from the consulting firm Global Market Advisors, not far behind the roughly $5.5 billion they project to be plunked down in Nevada that year.

Similarly rosy projections from Camelot Lottery Solutions suggest there's a market of about 450,000 Illinoisans ready to start placing legal bets once sportsbooks launch at casinos and racetracks -- and at large stadiums, such as Wrigley Field and the United Center, as permitted under the state's new gaming law.

That's not to mention the 27,000 black market gamblers that Camelot -- part of the corporate family that operates the Illinois Lottery -- presumes have been making picks already with their local bookies. And their market research says nearly 4 million more casual fans would consider betting, or be open to it, once it's live.

Those estimates came from a selection of companies that responded to a request for information last month from the Illinois Lottery, which is brainstorming its own "lottery sports" parlay wagering pilot program, which also was included in the gambling expansion.

A "strong sports tradition and great teams in all major leagues will be able to generate enthusiasm around sports betting" in Illinois, FDJ Gaming Solutions wrote in their response -- though Chicago fans might question that characterization by the French consulting firm given the recent struggles of the city's pro teams.

The estimated $5.2 billion sports betting amount -- known in the industry as the "handle" -- was on the high end of the Global Market Advisors projection. Their low Illinois industry estimate pegged the state for a $2.8 billion handle in 2023.

It would still place Illinois at the 6th highest projected handle in the nation after California, Texas, Florida, New York and Nevada, under the firm's forecast -- which assumes most states will eventually legalize sports betting since a U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to it last summer. But wagering legislation has yet to move forward for those first three states.

Of Illinois' handle, the firm projects Illinois sportsbooks to hold between $168 and $338 million in revenue.

The state gets a 15% cut of that in taxes under Illinois law; in Cook County, tack on another 2%. Under those revenue projections, it would bring in $25 million to $51 million for the state -- good news for Pritzker, whose office has suggested the sports betting industry will eventually pump between $58 and $102 million annually into Illinois coffers for his statewide capital projects plan.

Early returns have been promising for Illinois' neighbors that have enjoyed a head start on the market. Bettors have put down about $94 million since Iowa's mid-August sports betting launch, generating about $862,000 in tax revenue, while Indiana has taken in about $1.1 million in taxes on a $92 million handle since going live in September.

Those states were quick to launch after legalizing sports betting around the same time as Illinois, leaving many eager bettors impatient. Sponsors of the new gaming law guessed betting would be live in time for the Super Bowl in February, but that still might be too optimistic.

The Illinois Gaming Board has said it will release applications for sports betting operators by mid-December.