DES PLAINES, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois ushered in a new era of legal sports gambling Monday morning when Rivers Casino opened its ‘BetRivers’ sports book less than three miles from Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
Blackhawks commentator Eddie Olczyk placed the first wager at the ticket window and put a $100 bet on the Chicago White Sox to win the American League. At 16 to 1 odds, he could win $1,600 if the White Sox bring home the pennant.
“I love what the White Sox have done,” Olczyk, an avid Cubs fan, said after placing his bet. “There is great value in them.”
Five cashiers manned the ticket window inside the sports book once it opened to the public at noon. The casino features several electronic kiosks around the facility where gamblers can place their bets. In addition, the casino also invites bettors to register in person for their mobile app.
During the 2019 legislative session, state lawmakers wrote the gambling expansion to give casinos an 18-month head start accepting sports wagers before other online gambling operators, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, can start taking action. Billionaire Neil Bluhm, the Chairman of Rush Street Gaming — the parent company of the Rivers Casino — pushed for the ‘penalty box’ to squeeze out his competitors, which have largely cornered the sports betting markets in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“People have been betting illegally,” Bluhm said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “Now, it’s going to be highly regulated. You know it’s going to be honest. The state will get its share of the profit.”
House Representative Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) said sports betting will provide a vital revenue stream to help fund the state’s new $45 billion ‘Rebuild Illinois’ capital infrastructure program.
“I think this is going to be a very nice way to build universities and schools in Illinois,” Zalewski said. “I’m excited that as a result of something I did, there may be a kid in Cairo that gets a school out of it, or kid that goes to Western may get a new lab out of it. The policy maker in me is very excited about that.”
Zalewski, a White Sox fan, also praised the new facility, which features a 47-foot-wide video wall.
“I think it’s very cool,” he said. “It seems intimate enough to where people are going to enjoy the experience, but it seems like capacity-wise, they are going to be able to handle the traffic that is certainly coming their way this week.”
Two other casinos in Alton and Elgin plan to open sports books in the near future. The Argosy in Alton announced it plans to launch its sports betting site in one week, which would be in time for the March Madness surge.
(This story was originally published on March 9, 2020)