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Illinois casino gets in the sports wagering game
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Illinois casino gets in the sports wagering game

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Rivers sportsbook

Inside the BetRivers sports book at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Illinois sports fans no longer have to travel to Indiana to legally bet on their favorite teams.

Sports wagering began Monday at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois — near O'Hare International Airport — after it received final approval from the Illinois Gaming Board to start accepting sports bets.

Former Chicago Blackhawks center Eddie Olczyk placed the first wager. He bet $100 on the Chicago White Sox to win the American League pennant at 16-1 odds.

Another monthly record for Indiana sports wagers

The opening of the Rivers sportsbook ends Indiana's status, for the past six months, as the sole Great Lakes state to offer sports wagering. State-regulated casinos in Michigan also are due to begin accepting sports bets on Wednesday.

"Illinois' potential is enormous, but it has a long way to go to become a major player relative to the largest markets in the U.S.," said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst at the PlayIllinois.com gaming network.

"Launching the industry is obviously a momentous first step. But because of regulatory roadblocks to online sports betting, it will be years before Illinois can enjoy the same kind of boom that we've seen in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana."

Indiana OKs casino, mobile sportsbook wagers on the Oscars

Indeed, sports gamblers in Indiana already can place wagers from anywhere in the state using a mobile phone or another internet connected device, while limited mobile sports wagering isn't expected to launch in Illinois until next year.

Mobile wagering accounted for 72% of the $171 million wagered on sports in January through Indiana casinos, meaning Illinois' sports wagering market is likely to remain comparatively small even after other Illinois casinos open their retail sportsbooks in coming months.

Illinois also does not allow wagering on college sports teams based in the state. So Illinoisans wanting to put money on the University of Illinois or Bradley University advancing this month in the NCAA men's basketball tournament still will have to come to Indiana.

Seven categories of Super Bowl 'prop bets' approved for wagers in Indiana

"Illinois' high licensing fees for online operators and its in-person registration requirements will undoubtedly stunt the growth of the industry," Gouker said. "Indiana will be able to continue to cash in on the Chicago market until Illinois gets up to speed."

In January, 81% of Indiana's sports wagering handle passed through East Chicago's Ameristar Casino, Michigan City's Blue Chip Casino and Hammond's Horseshoe Casino — all about an hour's drive, or less, from downtown Chicago.

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