HomeIllinois Sports Betting NewsIllinois Gamblers Thrived in Late-Summer Betting

Illinois Gamblers Thrived in Late-Summer Betting

The monthly "handle," or amount wagered, tends to draw most of the headlines in the media because it is the largest number - in the more populated states such as Illinois, that number can end in the word "billion" during football season.

Image: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

But inside the gaming industry, “hold” is another big key – that is, the amount of handle that is not returned to winning bettors.

So it was noteworthy that the Illinois sports betting industry collectively only kept 6.9% of gamblers’ wagers of $675 million, the lowest such profit since mid-2022, according to a recent report.

That “hold” figure can reach 10% or more in a good month for the sportsbooks.

The good play – or good luck, or both – by bettors meant that gross revenue for August was $46.9 million. That figure was down almost 2% from August 2022, even though the betting handle was up almost 20% for the recent month.

Of course, good results for gamblers are a small hindrance to the state’s non-gambling residents because tax collection is based on each sportsbook operator’s monthly gross revenue.

Still, the state took in $7 million in taxes from the online Illinois sportsbooks in August, and Cook County – which counts Chicago’s residents among its massive population of more than 5 million people – took in another $500,000 from its separate tax.

Even with a “slow” month in August, the state overall has taken in a bit over $90 million in taxes in 2023.

Sportsbook Market Leaders in August

Casino Queen, a partner of gambling industry giant DraftKings, led the way at $241.7 million in handle in August – just ahead of Fairmount Park/FanDuel at $217.8 million.

Coming in a distant third was Midwest Gaming & Entertainment/BetRivers at $70.4 million, beating out Elgin Riverboat ($35.7 million), Par-A-Dice Gaming ($31.3 million), Hawthorne Race Course ($29.6 million), HC Aurora ($29.2 million), and retail-only outlets Alton Casino ($1.6 million) and HC Joliet ($640,000).

While New York reigns supreme in U.S. sports betting handle each month – at least until the day that larger states California, Florida, and Texas join in legalizing such gambling – Illinois is competitive with New Jersey, though the latter state – considered the modern pioneer of U.S. sports betting after winning its U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 – topped Illinois in August handle by a margin of $725.8 million vs. $675 million.

But the latter figure was up about $110 million from August 2022, so clearly, the Illinois gambling market has yet to reach its peak. Only Hawthorne Race Course and Alton Casino experienced declines in handle from the previous August.

The Illinois result left the state having taken in more than $25 billion in wagers since the first legal bet was accepted in March 2020 (unfortunately, just as the COVID-19 pandemic upended all of American life at virtually the exact same time).

The biggest driver of lower handle in August was a decline in the “cash cow” for sportsbooks – parlay bets. The multi-tier wagers offer long odds, which most often do not pay off for bettors. Some state regulators have reported months of as much as 20% “hold” numbers for parlays, and FanDuel – which promotes parlay bets more heavily than any rival – had topped that figure for an entire calendar year.

But in August, Illinois parlay selectors collectively lost only 13.7% of their money – the best showing in almost 18 months – and even FanDuel declined to 17.6%, for once losing its state-best monthly parlay advantage to BetMGM (17.8%).

But FanDuel IL maintained its edge with mobile revenue of $17.3 million, with DraftKings next at $15.8 million and BetRivers at $4.8 million.

Some Gamblers Still Bet in Person

While more than 95% of the legal gambling in Illinois takes place online – a figure that likely will grow as such traditional gamblers pass on – the kiosks and windows do still have their place.

Almost $20 million was risked at retail sportsbooks for the month, and that led to $1.6 million in revenue for operators. More than one-quarter of that amount went to Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, a Chicago suburb. Casino Queen’s convenient site in East St. Louis was next at almost $400,000, and Alton Casino – also near St. Louis, Mo. – was a strong third at $313,000.

Finally, gambling is a year-round activity for many Illinois residents, so a lack of football to wager on doesn’t stop some of them from chasing profits.

In August, Major League Baseball games produced wagers totaling $206 million, and men’s and women’s professional tennis – another summer pastime for gamblers – led to bets of about $90 million.

All eyes have turned to football season – especially in Illinois, a hotbed of both Big Ten college football and professional football supporters of the Chicago Bears.

In 2022, Illinois sportsbooks took in $832 million in bets in September, followed by big numbers in October, November, and December that in each case rounded to $1.03 billion per month. The peak actually came in January 2023 at $1.07 billion.

The upcoming September numbers, due for release by state regulators sometime in November, should provide a hint of how much larger the Illinois betting handle can get in its fourth autumn and winter of football wagering in the state.