A sports-betting ballot war appears all but certain next year in Florida, and the conflict might spread to Illinois where Hard Rock International plans to develop a $311m casino and continue its expansion into the commercial casino market.
Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the new casino in Rockford, the fourth largest city in Illinois, will be the tribe’s first property in the Prairie State.
The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) still has not approved a license for the Hard Rock casino but has allowed construction to begin.
“If you’re having a fight with somebody and can cause them some trouble in another jurisdiction, why wouldn’t you?” Steve Brubaker, an Illinois horseracing lobbyist and sports-betting analyst, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
The big difference in Illinois is DraftKings and FanDuel already are firmly established, and the Seminoles are the newcomers — a reversal of the tribe’s role in Florida.
DraftKings has a branding partnership with Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Illinois.
Less than 10 miles away is the former Fairmount Park racetrack, which is now known as FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing under a partnership agreement with FanDuel. FanDuel also operates a retail sportsbook at Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria.
“There are two new dynamics here,” Brubaker said. “First, do the Seminoles carry the angst from Florida into Illinois? Secondly, the leading investor in the Rockford casino owns tons of VGTs (video gaming terminals).”
Brubaker was referring to Dan Fischer and his Illinois Café and Service Company LLC, which operates the Dotty’s chain of gaming cafes where customers gamble on VGTs.
The VGT industry has eclipsed casinos as the leading source of gaming revenue in Illinois and wields enormous political influence in the state legislature.
According to the latest monthly figures released by the IGB, net wagering activity from VGTs was $233.5m on $2.6bn wagered in July, compared with $107.9m in total adjusted gross receipts from the state’s ten casinos.
Hard Rock’s entry into Illinois is just the latest stop on the tribal-owned casino operator’s expansion into other states outside its Florida stronghold.
Already DraftKings, FanDuel and other online operators compete against Hard Rock online in New Jersey and Iowa. Hard Rock also operates land-based casinos in New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio and Canada.
DraftKings and FanDuel are also just two of many companies the Seminoles would be competing against in Illinois, where Caesars Entertainment, Penn National and Rush Street Gaming are among the prominent established casino operators.
“I just can’t see them (the Seminoles) having that much impact,” said a high-ranking Illinois gambling industry executive.
“I don’t see them taking over the market,” the executive added.
Cory Aronovitz, an attorney with the Casino Law Group in Chicago, said the Seminoles enjoy a huge advantage in Florida because of their gambling compact with the state.
“In Illinois, they would be just market competitors like everybody else,” Aronovitz said.