Analysis

It’s a when – not if – Illinois overtakes NJ

The benefits of being slightly late to the party are demonstrated by the performance of sports betting in Illinois since launch in July.

The latest data from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) shows sports betting in October racing to a figure of $434m with gross revenues hitting $42.2m.

This is quite some total post given Illinois only opened to sports betting in July. Though the figures for November won’t be available until the very end of the year, we can assume the market has already passed the half-a-billion dollars in handle marker.

The comparison with New Jersey is illuminating. From launch in July 2018, the first state out of the sports betting blocks took 15 months to hit $445.6m. 

It broke through the half-a-billion barrier in November 2019 when handle reached $562.7m.

Unfair comparison

It seems fair to suggest Illinois is benefiting from the experience in New Jersey, which was learning lessons while the Illinois legislature was still debating how to move ahead.

One lesson that every state appears to want to emulate is to ensure sports betting statutes are in place before the start of the next NFL season.

The NFL remains the greatest driver of sports betting activity.

In New Jersey’s still short sports-betting history, the peaks in handle coincide with the NFL regular and post-season with a bit of juice left for March Madness.

It is followed by the summer lull – exacerbated this year by the paucity of sport in the spring and summer.

Heading for a billion

Much has been said about New Jersey heading for a billion dollars, but it seems clear that Illinois will likely hit that same target over a much shorter timeframe.

Depending on where the market is after betting has taken place on Superbowl LV in February, it seems likely that Illinois will be set for a record-breaking handle at the start of the next regular season. 

Of course, Illinois has a distinct per capita advantage. It is the 6th most populous state at around 12.6m people versus 8.8m in New Jersey, the 11th state by population.

But to counter that, New Jersey remains the most gaming-friendly sate as measured by the Wedge Index. On current standings it is 6th compared to runaway leader New Jersey.

This leadership position is partly down to the other advantages in New Jersey from a player point of view. 

Namely, it has a wider range of products available. This includes all sports wagering, horse-racing and a full online casino offer. 

And while Illinois currently has remote registration, there is every chance that post-pandemic in-person registration (IPR) might once more become a thing.

Duking it out

Moreover, New Jersey has far more competitors in sports betting compared to Illinois’ – to date – five lonely brands.

The only caveat surrounding the pace of growth in Illinois surround both these factors. 

Should IPR come back, that will severely limit the market growth. And while there are only five brands, that might also be a constriction.

More will come to Illinois. Notably a Barstool Sportsbook launch early next year has been spoken about by owner Penn National. More big names will surely push Illinois forward even further. 

So what are the odds that Illinois will be bigger than New Jersey in the next 12 months? It’ll be a close race but ultimately, the winners will be the punters in each state.

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Scott Longley

Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and the gambling industry. He has worked for a number of publications including Investor's Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, EGR and GamblingCompliance.com. He now writes for online and print titles across a wide range of sectors.

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