Ballys Chicago

Bally’s Corporation rendering

All states which currently have legal iGaming also have well-established retail casino backbones. To that end, Chicago and Downstate New York are strengthening their spines, perhaps suggesting that legal online casino gambling won’t be far behind.

At the moment, Illinois seems to be the closer of the two to doing so.

Both states tried and failed to pass iGaming bills during 2022. However, the Windy City just approved Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corporation to build a more than $1.7 billion retail casino.

It represents a significant ramp-up of Illinois gambling and may bode well for the chances of its now-dormant Internet Gaming Act to get revived in 2023.

At the moment, the 11 retail casinos in Illinois generate $1.71 billion in annual gross gaming revenue (GGR), according to the nonprofit American Gaming Association (AGA).

Bally’s estimates that on its own, its Chicago casino will generate $800 million a year in gaming revenue.

Plus, Illinois already has online sports betting, which conventional wisdom says helps lead to iGaming legalization. In practice, however, most legal US online casino states enact iGaming laws simultaneously with online sports betting.

Still, the main New York legislator pushing for online casino and online poker legalization believes his fellow lawmakers will see how well the Jan. 8 online sports betting launch went and enact iGaming next year. Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Howard Beach. introduced the still active SB 8412.The bill moved to the finance committee on April 25.

Expensive casinos mean big bets on state revenue

Other than Nevada, the only state containing a multi-billion-dollar casino and no legal online casinos is Massachusetts. (Casinos worth more than $1 billion but less than $2 billion do exist in a few other states, like Maryland and New York.)

So states willing to gamble on legalizing online casinos can also boast of well-established retail casino infrastructures. That’s when they think about adding more gambling options, like legal online casino games.

Indeed, the legal iGaming states of Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia play host to 60 land-based casinos. Those generated $16.5 billion in GGR during 2021, AGA said.

Illinois gambling expands

So if the size of a construction project translates to state dedication to gambling expansion, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot’s announcement on May 5 may represent just that. She said Bally’s will build the only retail casino to be housed within the city limits.

Regardless, Lightfoot spoke of long-term expectations for the casino to be built by the Chicago River:

“We are confident that Bally’s Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the City’s pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city.”

Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, was more specific about how the Bally’s facility will benefit the state.

Cole is quoted in Lightfoot’s announcement:

“A Chicago casino will provide a real boost to the City’s revenues by $200 million to support police and fire pension funds as well as to the State’s revenues by $200 million to support capital improvement projects statewide.”

Meanwhile just outside of Chicago’s boundaries, casinos exist in Aurora, Des Plaines, Elgin and Joliet. A fifth, $440 million suburban Chicago casino is slated to be ready in mid-2023. That building is slated to open in mid-2023 about a half-hour south of Chicago. PlayIllinois reported on May 4 that the casino being built by Wind Creek, the authority of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, will generate $155 million in annual revenue.

New York has a larger retail base, working to expand it

AGA notes that in 2021, New York’s 31 casinos generated $3.6 billion in GGR.

However, the Empire State is about to eclipse that impressive $1.7 billion price tag on the proposed Chicago casino.

Addabbo told Online Poker Report last month that he wouldn’t be surprised if each of the three new Downstate retail casino licenses sell for $1 billion each. If the competition PlayNY‘s Mike Mazzeo reported on yesterday is any indication, Addabbo is probably right.

However, Chicago already selected Bally’s and New York City’s new neighbors won’t be selected until Oct. 6.

So for now, iGaming legalization is on hold there until the New York State Gaming Commission selects the winners.

Meanwhile, lawmakers can watch these online sports betting handles roll in:

  • January: $1.7 billion
  • February: $1.5 billion
  • March: $1.6 billion
  • April: $1.4 billion

No doubt when New York finally approves iGaming, its receipts will far outpace the Land of Lincoln’s.

Illinois is sizable, with 12.7 million residents. However, the New York City metropolitan area alone is home to 19.1 million people. The state itself only houses 19.5 million people.

So Illinois may win the sprint, but New York is running a marathon.

Chicago picked an online gambling operator

Bally’s puts its online gambling plans front and center.

In the first sentence of its Chicago casino announcement on May 5, Bally’s pointed out that it was “a global gaming, hospitality and entertainment company with a portfolio of casinos and resorts and online gaming businesses.”

That was an interesting place to emphasize its interactive business.

Bally Bet Sportsbook isn’t live yet in Illinois and isn’t yet announced there, either. Bally Bet is live in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa and Virginia. It’s slated to arrive in New York and Ontario soon.

Bally Casino launched in January in New Jersey.

However, in an April 26 announcement about an Ohio online sports betting partnership, Bally’s division Bally’s Interactive did mention the sportsbook has market access in 18 states. That accounts for most legal sports betting states.

So chances are, Bally’s will quickly move for Illinois online sports betting approval.

Illinois in-person registration for online gambling gone

If Illinois mimics its online sports betting rules when it enacts iGaming, bettors will need to sign up in-person at retail casinos for the first 18 months.

On March 5, bettors in the Land of Lincoln could register for online sportsbooks online. Prior to that, the law required them to register in-person at retail casinos.

Unfortunately, construction on Bally’s Chicago won’t be complete until late 2025 at the earliest, probably too late to provide the company with an advantage during the in-person registration period. However, it will have a temporary facility up and running well before then. It will also reap some benefits in terms of brand awareness as the project progresses.

Bally’s is so optimistic about its future that the same day it announced the Chicago casino, it nixed a $2 billion bid that would’ve taken the company private.

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