Illinois Gives Sports Betting Licenses to Hard Rock & Betway
Written by Jessica Aletor
August 7, 2023

Illinois Gives Sports Betting Licenses to Hard Rock & Betway

After a keenly contested bid, the Illinois Gaming Board has granted Betway one of the state’s online sports betting operator licenses. On the other hand, Hard Rock has also gained approval for rights to operate a retail sportsbook in the state.

In a series of announcements made in the final days of July, the state betting regulator expressed its validation of the applications of both companies. About 233 independent gambling licenses were also either approved or denied by the Illinois Gaming Board.

For Betway, this approval comes months after it had previously withdrawn its application for an online-only sports betting license. This license attracts a $20 million fee while granting its holder the rights to operate online sportsbooks without a partnership with retail brands. Hard Rock, however, now enjoys a permit to launch a physical and mobile sportsbook.

Online-Only Sports Betting License Set Betway Back $20 Million but Offers Immense Benefits

Betway was one of the two contestants for the online-only operator license in the state. The company’s initial application came in 2021 when the Illinois Gaming Board first introduced a bidding system. However, the operator was unable to follow through with its bid and withdrew the application without explanation.

More recently, the IGB announced a new bidding round, and Betway, feeling confident of its chances, submitted an application. The Board announced the grant of the license to Betway, edging out its competition. According to the IGB, the other contestant, J&J LLC, requested the removal of its bid early in July.

This license comes at a cost, though, with the winner of the bid required by law to pay $20 million. Surprisingly, Betway’s representatives guaranteed that they would be offering $22.5 million as the license fee. In their words, “$20 million is the minimum license requirement and an additional $2.5 million committed at the Applicant’s discretion.”

J&J LLC was reported to have bid $23 million before refusing to proceed with the bid, causing the Board to automatically announce Betway as winner. This is not the first time that competitors for the license would pull out. In October last year, Tekkorp also withdrew its bid for the Illinois online-only operating license.

As soon as its Illinois operations start, Betway would have a presence in three markets, with New Jersey and Pennsylvania being the other two. The sports betting operator would also become the eighth sportsbook in Illinois.

Hard Rock Receives Coveted Sports Betting Management Services Provider License in Illinois

The IGB granted Hard Rock a master sports betting license on the same day it approved Betway’s application. Unlike Betway’s operating license, this approval allows Hard Rock to receive in-person bets at its Hard Rock Casino Rockford physical facility.

In addition, the operator would be permitted to run an online operation. Hard Rock recently unveiled a rebrand of its mobile application, indicating its readiness for a virtual sports betting operation.
Commenting on the license approval, Geno Lafrate, the President of Hard Rock Casino Rockford released the following statement:

“We are excited to add sports betting as the latest amenity to Hard Rock Casino Rockford — The Opening Act. We are very appreciative of the IGB’s hard work and diligence to get us to this point. We still have work to do as we finalize our internal controls and begin hiring and training. We are hopeful to launch sports betting within the next couple of months.”

The potential for sports betting growth in Illinois is considerably immense. The Prairie State has one of the smallest number of sportsbook operators but remains one of five states to have crossed $1 billion in monthly sports betting handle. With new licenses granted to established companies, it is expected that the competition will trigger improved quality and better revenue for the state.

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