Sportsbooks are lining up to serve Illinois players. Add Hard Rock Sportsbook to that list, which filed for a mobile sports betting license on Aug. 23.
Hard Rock International is the corporate umbrella of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The company owns six Seminole casinos in the Sunshine State and another 37 Hard Rock-branded properties worldwide. The non-Florida facilities include casinos, hotels and full-fledged casino resorts.
Despite a wide footprint, the tribe makes most of its gambling revenue from its Florida operations. It’s essentially the state’s sole casino operator. While their revenue totals aren’t public because tribes aren’t forced to disclose those figures, the numbers would’ve been larger if Florida sports betting wasn’t shuttered.
In May 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the tribe agreed to a new, 30-year gaming compact. The deal’s highlight was the legalization of retail and online sports betting. However, the tribe was given exclusivity over the online market. Additionally, any non-Seminole-owned retail sportsbook would operate as a vendor of the tribe.
The agreement faced legal challenges from West Flagler Associates, the ownership group of two pari-mutuel facilities, but the legislature and the federal government approved the deal. As a result, Hard Rock Sportsbook launched in Florida last November.
Unfortunately for Florida bettors, a District Court judge agreed with West Flagler and invalidated the compact just a few weeks after it launched. Consequently, the tribe was forced to shutter its online sportsbook.
Seminole Tribe eyes Illinois market
Aside from entering the Illinois online sports betting market, Hard Rock International recently broke ground on a permanent hotel and casino in Rockford, IL. It’s expected to open in late 2023.
Wagering on sports in The Land of Lincoln is big business. The state surpassed $1 billion in total revenue and is now the second largest sports betting state in the US, trailing just New York in market size.
Pending approval from the Illinois Gaming Board, Hard Rock hopes to launch its sportsbook in time for the 2023 Super Bowl in February.
Five operators await approval
The current list of mobile sportsbook operators in Illinois stands at seven:
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- BetMGM Sportsbook
- PointsBet Sportsbook
- BetRivers Sportsbook
- Caesars Sportsbook
- Barstool Sportsbook
Caliplay was approved in April but has not gone live yet. It has the first online-only license, with no partnership with a land-based casino.
In applying for a mobile sportsbook license, Hard Rock joins Bally’s, Circa Sports, Unibet and Wynn on the list of hopefuls to operate in Illinois. Bally’s submitted its application most recently, on Sept. 12, while Circa submitted one May 16. Unibet and Wynn have been waiting since November 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Additionally, Illinois has 11 retail sportsbooks throughout the state, with more to come at sports venues like United Center, Soldier Field and Wrigley Field.
Hard Rock faces competition on both sides
Hard Rock is not alone in entering an expanding casino market. It will likely be among a handful of new entrants into sports betting, but it’s also set to face competition from new land-based casinos.
Most notably, Bally’s Chicago casino will become the largest in the state once it opens by 2025. North and south Chicago suburbs will soon have casinos, as will Beloit, WI, roughly 20 miles from Rockford. The Ho-Chunk Casino in Beloit will likely open by the end of 2023.
In many ways, these casinos are all in a race to open. With Hard Rock’s recent casino and sportsbook progress, it is proving to be one of the faster movers. Plenty of work remains, though.
‘Opening Act’ has been a success for Hard Rock
The finished Hard Rock casino in Rockford will include a Hard Rock Cafe, 250-room hotel, 1,600-seat entertainment venue and 65,000 square feet of gaming space. Of course, it will also have a sportsbook.
In the meantime, the temporary Rockford Casino: A Hard Rock Opening Act will remain open as it has been since last November. The temporary casino has over 600 slot machines and is roughly one-third the size of its future edition.
More impressively, the temporary casino made over $4 million in its first month and $43 million through August. Of that revenue, $5.8 million went to the state in taxes and another $2.5 million went to the city.
Of Illinois’ 11 casinos, this number ranks eighth. Will Hard Rock be able to step into the ring with bigger competitors like Harrah’s Joliet, Grand Victoria and Rivers? Only time will tell.