Super Bet: Sports Wagering Now Legal in Illinois

Whether you’re in it for the football, the commercials, or the food and friends, the coronavirus means Sunday’s Super Bowl will be different this year.

But something else about this year’s matchup is new. You don’t have to travel to Las Vegas to legally bet on it.

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State Rep. Mike Zalewski helped to shepherd through the law that made it happen. He says it’s been a long time coming.

“This is the first time we’ll be able to do a legal sports bet on a Super Bowl,” he said.

Illinois passed the law legalizing sports betting in 2019. 

The first sports book at the Rivers Casino opened last March, but soon after it had to shut down because of COVID-19. That and other physical sports books have been open intermittently since, depending on COVID-19 restrictions.

Arguably the biggest, well, game-changer, came last summer, when online betting apps premiered. They have been going strong since.

But Sunday. It’s really game time.

Zalewski will be watching the game, but also how much sports books report people having wagered on it.

“This is the ‘super bowl’ of sports betting; it’s the Super Bowl and it’s the super bowl of sports betting,” Zalewski said. “It’s the day of the year, besides the NCAA tournament, where we expect these numbers to be at their highest. That will be what I’m watching most closely because that’s what’s used to fund schools in Illinois and libraries in Illinois.”

No school or library operating funds; rather the state’s share of these gambling taxes and fees is marked to pay for their construction; public building infrastructure upgrades.

We won’t know how much revenue Super Bowl bets rake in for at least a month and a half. But the sports betting handle in November nearly reached $450 million. Illinois gets a chunk of that.

Annually, the state could be looking at taking in $70 million in revenue from sports betting.

Because we’re in phase 4 of state coronavirus mitigations, sports books are open for business, including at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, which this fall became the first horse race track to offer a sports book.

Hawthorne racing analyst Jim Miller says it’s like a sports book in Las Vegas, and people can come, though only at 25% capacity because of COVID-19.

“Because this is our first Super Bowl with legalized sports betting, we’re not sure what the crowds are going to be,” he said. “Now us at Hawthorne, we’re equating it to Kentucky Derby Day. That’s the biggest race in racing, and you get a lot of people that come out and place wagers on one race each every year and that’s the Derby. So we’re going to treat the Super Bowl the same way. So we’ll be staffed up. We want to make everything convenient, we want to make everything easy.”

There’s another in-person option, that doesn’t require staying at the sports book.

He also expects that similar to Derby Day, some betters will “come in, place those wagers and then go home and watch the game.”

The bet-and-go types can either use a kiosk, or place a wager with a live teller on Sunday or beforehand.

“Then go home and enjoy the game and hopefully cash those wagers in the days after,” he said. 

Or you can place a wager online. There are a lot of options, but not as many as you may think. Wagers are limited to conduct directly under the NFL’s control or jurisdiction.

The director of Illinois’ gaming board laid out the rules during a virtual meeting last week.

Betting on what happens on the field, that’s allowed.

“Such as comparing the length of a drive to the length of the National Anthem, etc., any occurrences related to the referees’ conduct of the game,” said Marcus Fruchter, director of Illinois’ gaming board.

What color Gatorade the winning team pours on the coach’s head? Also legal, because those involved are subject to NFL’s policies.

Also OK: coin flips, penalties, and how long halftime goes.

But not allowed: outside activity, including the length of the anthem or:

“Contents of the halftime show, so that would include the number of songs, the order of songs, wardrobe changes, special appearances, costume malfunctions, etc.,” Fruchter said.

No bets either, on coaches' and players' non-Gatorade post game conduct.

“For example, that would mean you cannot wager on the content of a post-game speech; how, when, if, whether a player says he’s going to Disney World, whether a player announces his retirement, whether a player proposes to his fiancé, etc.,” Fruchter said.

Those novelty bets he admits, are the sort of thing that helps to popularize sports wagering – and the more popular, the more revenue for Illinois.

But he says, it’s about conducting betting according to the highest standards, to maintain the public's confidence.

Hawthorne’s Miller says there are ways to have fun with it.

“Some people just do it for fun, and you see it with the Super Bowl more than any other game, the amount of wagers that are offered,” he said. “There’s a great bet through PointsBet. It’s called Devin Hester’s House Call Super Boost. And the last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl, Devin Hester returned a kick for a touchdown. His super boost through PointsBet, you get 17-to-1 odds if anybody returns a kick for a touchdown. So that’s one of the cool things that we get to see as some of those just different, quirky kind of bets. Just put a couple dollars down, but it gives you that rooting interest in the game.”

Hawthorne has a partnership with PointsBet.

Critics say Illinois is preying on gambling addicts by getting into the sports wagering business.

The gaming board, by the way, held a special meeting Thursday, and gave preliminary approval for a Hard Rock casino in Rockford. It's not a done deal, but much further along than Chicago’s casino.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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