You could say that COVID-19 gave the legal sports betting industry in Illinois a change of odds becoming the longshot no one anticipated. However, as is usually the case with longshots, sometimes they payout and sometimes they don't. At least in Illinois, the pandemic actually assisted with the launch of this new industry. One that saw a lot of betting activity on Boxing/MMA matches due to when the first legal sportsbooks opened. Let's look at that a little closer.
The Weird Timing No One Could Have Predicted
It was back in June 2019 when state legislators legalized sports betting in Illinois. It took nearly a year before the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook opening in March 2020. Later that month - within days of the opening - COVID-19 became a pandemic that resulted in massive closures across the country of places where people gathered. This included casinos. The first legal mobile/online sportsbook in the state opened in June 2020. Talk about bad timing for any new business venture to launch. If people weren't self-isolating, they were staying away from public places killing time at home or somewhere with a reliable internet connection. That was precisely what aided the online sports betting industry. With mobile sportsbooks to access, there was a fun, exciting way to while away some time locked in self-isolation. Proof of that comes directly from the Illinois Gaming Board, which tracks gambling activity at casinos and sportsbooks. They report that the largest monthly handle so far was recorded in August 2020 at an impressive $139,643,887. That's coming from a total of 7 brick-and-mortar and 5 online sportsbooks operating in the state. So, as odd as the timing was for the launch of this new industry, the pandemic probably helped get it off the ground.
What Are They Betting On?
Well, that information comes from the IGB who published monthly reports. The August 2020 report shows that since most major sports are back to playing - although with no spectators or limited seating available - bettors are making use of the new sports betting industry to get involved. Sure, boxing was a big draw in the beginning because there was not much else to choose from unless you had a secret attraction to the Spanish Soccer League. You see, while we talk about timing and look mostly to the pandemic as impacting Illinois' sports gambling industry when it just got out of the gates, we can't forget what the pandemic did to most major league sports. Basketball suspended their season then restarted. Football was between seasons but skipped the pre-season altogether. Hockey suspended their season then restarted. Major league baseball suspended spring training and delayed the start of their season. The sports landscape was pretty bare in March and April, the first two months that sports betting was legal in the state. But things did start to happen and bettors started betting and sportsbooks started generating revenue.
Boxing/MMA saw a total of $76,966 wagered in August with the majority of that ($74,132) coming from online sportsbooks. As impressive as that may sound, it's not nearly as much as was bet on the sport between March and July (where the $6.2 million figure fits in). But considering the options at the time, boxing had to be a pretty good reason to plunk down a few bucks. The top wager earners in August 2020 were as follows: Baseball was tops with $1,084,577 in bets placed during the month with basketball at second place with $773,547. Hockey came in at fourth with wagers totaling $353,355. Golf, soccer, boxing/MMA, tennis, and football rounded out the list. Naturally, football will climb up that list as the season progresses and all other sports will shift around. It is also important to note that the biggest chunk of the wager figures noted here were bets that were placed exclusively through online/mobile sportsbooks. In other words, bettors are not afraid to go the distance via the internet.
How This Stacks Up To Other States
The August handle of $139.6-million in Illinois is impressive considering that legal sportsbooks have only been in business there for 5 months (brick-and-mortar) and 2 months (online). But where does Illinois sit compared to other recent entries in the legalized sports gambling category? Colorado legalized sports betting in November 2019 but sportsbooks have only been active there since May and in August the state recorded their biggest monthly handle to date of $128,646,209. Michigan legalized sports betting in December 2019 and they only have brick-and-mortar sportsbooks so far with the first one launched in March 2020. The biggest monthly handle in Michigan to date was recorded in August at $15,744,256. These numbers show that something is amazing going on in Illinois. For such a large handle to be collected after such a short period since sportsbooks have opened in the state, betting on sports must be a big deal in Illinois.
The Bottom Line
There has been a combination of things that made legal online sports betting interesting in Illinois. Call it a perfect storm if you must but the timing of the launch of legal sportsbooks and the pandemic could not have been predicted nor could the outcome of that coincidence. With Illinois residents staying home, professional sporting activities on hold, and an online betting system just getting underway, no one would have seen this as a successful business model, but it worked. Boxing/MMA gives bettors something to get excited about and they opened their gaming accounts to the option with glee. It also very likely introduced several non-sports fans or non-bettors to a safe and reliable form of technology designed to provide entertainment of a different kind. Will sports gaming catch on in Illinois? It already has and if you are unsure of where to place your bets in the state, you can always visit here. Just keep in mind that although online sports betting is a new industry in Illinois, it is experiencing rapid growth that cannot be denied. It will most definitely go the full 12 rounds.