Rule is only there because of politics

Leave it to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to ruin a good thing. To be fair, the state legislators that drew up Illinois’ sports betting regulations were the original geniuses who came up with the awful rule, but Pritzker could easily fix things with a swipe of a pen. On Friday, the governor decided not to renew Executive Order 2020-41, which suspended the in-person registration requirement for mobile sports betting accounts. Thus, anyone in Illinois who wants to create an online wagering account must travel to a brick-and-mortar sportsbook to do so.

The rule that restricts mobile signups to in-person registration for the first 18 months of Illinois’ online sports betting industry was put in place essentially to protect the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos. More specifically, it protected Rivers Casino in Des Plaines thanks to the casino’s political connections, at the expense of DraftKings and FanDuel, who Rivers doesn’t like going back to the younger days of daily fantasy sports.

So, signing up for an online betting account is already a pain in the ass from day one and it makes absolutely no sense beyond political maneuvering. I mean, I don’t have to go to a Target store to create an account on Target’s website. But it got even worse last year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced casinos to shut down just days after sports betting launched in Illinois.

One silver lining of the pandemic

With casinos closed, there was no way for anyone to create online betting accounts and therefore no way for anyone to bet (not that there was much going on in the sports world for a while). Finally, Pritzker signed the executive order on June 4, pausing that in-person registration requirement and letting people create accounts at home like our mothers intended.

He then reinstated the requirement in July, but feeling the pressure, he renewed the executive order in August and every month thereafter.

And because of that, sports betting took off in Illinois. It set state record after record each month and by the end of January, when handle was $581 million, it was taking more wagers (in terms of dollars) then all but three states: Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Governor thinks health and safety situation has improved

But now the in-person registration requirement is back. Why? Because Pritzker thinks the COVID-19 situation has improved to the point where people should go to casinos…I guess.

Pritzker’s press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh told Legal Sports Report, “Illinois is currently in phase four with vaccination rates rapidly increasing and casinos around the state have reopened with safety guidelines in place, so the suspension of in person sports betting registration requirements is no longer needed.”

And that’s great. We want vaccination rates to skyrocket – I’m hopefully getting my second shot late next week. But the thing is, the actual COVID-19 numbers in Illinois have worsened recently. When Pritzker renewed the executive order in August, the state’s positivity rate was at about 4%, up from about 3% in late July 2020. As of this past Friday, that number is back up to 4.1%. A month ago, it was 2.4%. Now, none of that means that someone couldn’t safely walk into a physical sportsbook, following health and safety guidelines, and create an online account, but it does at least somewhat hurt any sort of argument that things are so much safer now.

But all that aside, the rule is just plain dumb and when the rule was suspended, sportsbooks and, in turn, the state, had great success. Pritzker could easily just keep renewing the executive order and if someone asks him why, he can just point to the numbers. Even if the pandemic eases significantly in the next few months, the scoreboard doesn’t lie.

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