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While Illinois sports betting stalls, Indiana reaps $813K in one month of tax revenue -- money 'we're not getting'

10th October, 22:54

With newly legalized sports betting stuck behind the starting gate in Illinois, sportsbooks across the border in Indiana have sprinted to a lucrative launch, Hoosier gambling regulators announced Thursday.

Bettors in Indiana plunked down more than $35.2 million on sports contests in September, which marked that state's first month of legal sports wagering, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

The 10 Indiana casinos currently laying odds kept almost $8.6 million of that betting handle, with the state taking $813,103 off the top in tax revenue.

Chicago-area gamblers certainly contributed to the windfall for Illinois' easterly neighbor. The two Indiana casinos that accepted the most cash on sports bets are each barely a half-hour drive from the Loop: the Horseshoe Hammond ($8.9 million handle) and Ameristar East Chicago ($5.4 million handle).

Dozens of South Siders and other Illinois residents were on hand last month as northwest Indiana casinos held raucous sportsbook ribbon-cutting ceremonies -- and enlisted a handful of Chicago Bears legends including Mike Ditka and Brian Urlacher to mark the occasion.

And with no launch date in sight from the Illinois Gaming Board for sports betting to go live on this side of the border -- more than three months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the industry into law as part of a massive gambling expansion -- Indiana's numbers are only expected to keep skyrocketing.

Online sports-betting launched there earlier this month, meaning Chicago drivers can now take the first exit on Interstate 90 past the state line, pull over to put money on the Blackhawks with their cellphone, then turn around and listen to the game on the way home.

"Indiana's sportsbooks are in their infancy, but their ability to capitalize on the Chicago market did not take long to produce dividends," said Dustin Gouker, lead sports betting industry analyst for PlayIndiana.com. Gouker called it "the largest handle we've seen in a state's first month of legal sports betting."

Those figures are sure to have Illinois officials champing at the bit to start lining the cash-strapped state's coffers. But before sports betting can roll out here, the Illinois Gaming Board has to draft hundreds of pages of rules not spelled out in the state's sports wagering law, governing application and operation procedures for would-be sportsbooks.

Public comments on sports betting that were received and published last week by the regulatory agency indicated Illinois casinos, racetracks and average Joe bettors are eager to get the action moving here -- and so is state Rep. Mike Zalewski, the Riverside Democrat who crafted much of the bill that became law June 28.

"I'm confident that the [Gaming Board] is working diligently to roll out sports betting. But Indiana's early success is a reminder the sooner the better," Zalewski said.

Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter has said his agency is performing its due diligence in "making sure we have the right approach for the state, which deserves integrity and adequate safeguards."

But state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, another longtime Springfield gambling proponent, said now's not the time to "overthink" regulations.

"That's revenue we're not getting," Syverson said. "The state is losing dollars every day we don't have these rules done so we can start to move forward. We're months behind now on revenue."

Pritzker's office has estimated the industry will generate $240 million in upfront licensing fees and eventually rake in about $60 million in annual tax revenue. His office did not respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is already banking on $1.75 million from sports betting tax revenue in her budget for next year. With state law earmarking 2% of sportsbooks' gross revenue for county government, that means Preckwinkle is projecting Chicago-area operators to net $87.5 million out of the gate despite the bureaucratic delay.

Indiana's $35.2 million September handle -- though surely boosted by the start of the NFL season, not to mention inaugural wagering excitement -- even approached the $44.4 million August in-person sports betting handle of New Jersey, which quickly has become the United States' top sports betting mecca outside Las Vegas since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last spring opened the door to the industry nationwide.

Football indeed was the main draw for Hoosier sportsbooks, with pigskin matchups accounting for more than $20.7 million of the statewide handle, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission. Almost $9.8 million was placed on parlay wagers, and about $3.4 million was bet on baseball.

Iowa became the first Midwest state to start taking sports wagers Aug. 15. Gamblers placed about $8.6 million in bets at Hawkeye casinos during their first month, generating almost $146,000 for the state.

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