Rozner: In Illinois, you can always bet on one winner. And it's not you.

  • After the first legal sports book opened at Rivers on March 9, all sports shut down just three days later.

    After the first legal sports book opened at Rivers on March 9, all sports shut down just three days later. Daily Herald file photo

Updated 7/28/2020 4:05 PM

Even if you're not interested in sports betting, you have to be fascinated by the politics of what's occurred over the last few weeks.

It's enough to make you wonder who might wake up to find a horsehead in their bed.


Without getting too deep in the weeds here, let's begin with the first legal sports bet in Illinois. That was in March at Rivers Casino, which has had great political sway since its opening in 2011 and somehow managed to be the only casino for miles while Arlington Park was unable to get slots.

It took decades for the state to pass a gambling bill and Gov. Pat Quinn refused to sign both, essentially sending Arlington and Illinois horse racing into a death spiral seven years ago.

But, as usual, we digress.

After the first legal sports book opened at Rivers on March 9, all sports shut down just three days later. It was at first necessary to register for betting in person, but with casinos closed due to the pandemic, that was a bit of a problem.

On June 4, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order declaring in-person registration unnecessary and sports bettors in Illinois could sign up online. The obvious reason being Pritzker did not want massive numbers of people heading into a casino when they reopened just to sign up for sports betting.

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Safety was the top priority, right?

But threatening the Rivers monopoly was a May 28 emergency rule from the Illinois Gaming Board that would allow the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet to pair up with a brick-and-mortar sportsbook and open their books online quickly.

For example, DraftKings recently announced a partnership with the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, which would have allowed it to go live with sports betting as soon as the gaming board extended provisional wagering status to the Casino Queen.

The talk was that was about to happen, perhaps as early as this past weekend, but in June it was Rivers that challenged that emergency rule.

So just as you were about to have the option to sign up with several sportsbooks and shop for lines without having to drive to Des Plaines or East St. Louis or anywhere else to register, the governor on Friday suddenly ended the period of remote registration.

Probably just a coincidence.

Just as all sports were returning and the option to play online was going to be there at numerous sportsbooks, Pritzker decided that despite his plea for everyone to be safe and to stay out of large gatherings, you must go to a casino and register for sports wagering.


In effect, he was restoring Rivers' monopoly on sports betting.

The governor wants you to stay home and be safe, but apparently not if it means letting DraftKings or FanDuel compete with Rivers for sports betting dollars.

The politicians know you're not going to drive to East St. Louis from the Chicago area so they're willing to risk your safety and force you into a casino in Des Plaines if it means keeping Rivers in the driver's seat.

If you think this hypocrisy is shocking, you must be new to Illinois politics, where money is the key to all that occurs and state politics operate like it's straight out of a Mario Puzo novel.

It's also worth remembering that when the gambling law was written and passed last year, it intentionally gave Rivers at least an 18-month head start on DraftKings and FanDuel, which have professional sportsbook operations and could have begun almost immediately.

Now that all these other books were about to go live online without in-person registration, suddenly the state isn't worried about your safety and wants you to head into a crowd to get your account set up.

So, your choice is now one sportsbook in Illinois, and risking your health to sign up, or staying offshore with multiple sites to shop for lines, or with the local guy on the corner.

With the Illinois Gaming Board set to meet Thursday, we'll see if this changes for the better -- and the bettor.

Long-time Illinois residents don't even bat an eye at such nonsense because we're used to it. In this state, it's never about the consumer, or knowing that more books and more sports mean more revenue for a state in deep financial trouble.

In the State Where Nothing Works, we expect the worst and often get it.

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