EAST CHICAGO — Sports wagering in Indiana? You can bet on it.
At exactly 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Todd Sanders, of Highland, walked up to a counter at the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago and placed the first legal bet on a sporting event at a Northwest Indiana casino.
Sanders bet $50 that the Chicago Bears will win their conference championship, and another $50 that the Bears will win the Super Bowl.
If both happen, the lifelong Bears and White Sox fan will win $1,350.
"That will be a great day," he said.
But Sanders, the owner of a heating and air service company who usually plays slots at Ameristar, also believes the first day of legal sports wagering in Indiana was a pretty great day.
"I think it's great for the state. I think it's great for our community. I think it's going to increase sales here at Ameristar. I think it's going to be a good thing," Sanders said. "I'll probably be here for every Bears game."
He likely won't be alone.
Ameristar remodeled the pavilion that connects its parking garage to the casino to put five sports betting windows and numerous freestanding wagering kiosks alongside its Stadium sports bar and a burger restaurant, so nearly every person visiting the casino will pass by the sports book as they enter and leave.
On Sunday, some 50 people were in line to bet prior to the "soft opening" for sports betting at Ameristar.
The grand opening is set for 4 p.m. Thursday, featuring former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and Devin Hester, a former Bear who holds the NFL record for kickoff return touchdowns.
Similar grand opening events are planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, and 10 a.m. Thursday at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City. The Majestic Star casinos in Gary are not opening a retail sports book.
Looking at the line of eager sports bettors Sunday at his casino, Ameristar General Manager Matt Schuffert, of Hobart, said he was "extremely excited."
"This is a new form of gaming and we're very fortunate to be one of the first ones in Chicagoland to be able to offer this," Schuffert said.
"The crowd that we're seeing is exciting, and we're looking forward to seeing what sports wagering brings to the property."
Kevin Tabariasl, of Munster, who placed several wagers on baseball games, said he's grateful that he no longer will have to travel to Las Vegas to bet on sports.
"It's nice that Indiana and the surrounding states are opening up," Tabariasl said. "Vegas isn't exactly somewhere easy to get to. So it's nice that it's here, 15 minutes away from home, and I'm really looking forward to it."
While Tabariasl said he sometimes plays hold 'em poker or blackjack at Region casinos, they're not his favorite.
"This is my thing. I like to do the sports betting," he said. "So those things will probably will be far and few now that sports betting is opening up throughout the area."
Schuffert said he's not worried that sports betting will reduce how often guests play slot machines or table games at Ameristar.
"I think people who want to go to the casino are still going to go to the casino. I think people who want to come do this are going to be able to do this," Schuffert said.
"The nice thing is we have the betting kiosks on the casino floor for those customers who are going to be on the floor gaming, enjoying that amenity, who want to pop over and place a wager at the kiosk — that flexibility is going to be there."
Shaun Goeddeke, of Lyons, Illinois, can attest there are plenty of things to do besides sports wagering at Ameristar, after arriving at 9 a.m. to bet on baseball before finding out the wagering windows wouldn't open for several more hours.
"It took a little bit longer than expected, but it's exciting," Goeddeke said.
He's hoping one of his bets, a $20 wager on the outcome of five baseball games that will pay $764 if he picked them all correctly, will be the first of many wins on his numerous expected visits to Indiana casinos.
"Until something else opens up, I'll definitely be here pretty much daily betting baseball," Goeddeke said. "Until they open it up in Illinois, I'll be at Indiana properties doing legal sports betting."
Indiana is the 13th state to fully legalize betting on sports after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a 1992 federal law restricting the practice.
Illinois lawmakers also voted this year to legalize sports wagering. But it likely still will be several more months before the Illinois Gaming Board approves the rules necessary for Illinois casinos to begin accepting sports bets.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, who in May signed into law House Enrolled Act 1015 permitting sports wagering in the Hoosier State, was the first person to place a sports bet in Indiana around 11 a.m. Region time Sunday.
At Indiana Grand casino in Shelbyville, the Republican put $10 on the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl, $10 on the Indiana Pacers to win the NBA championship, and $10 on the Indiana Fever WNBA team to win Sunday's game.
"As in all things in life, moderation is key," Holcomb said. "Never bet more than you can afford to lose."
If he wins on his bets, Holcomb said he's donating the proceeds to the Indiana Canine Action Network, which works with prison inmates to train service dogs for the disabled.
Altogether, the state's 13 casinos last week were authorized by the Indiana Gaming Commission to accept wagers on up to 19 different professional and Division I college sports — everything from baseball, football and basketball to cricket, darts and sailing, as well as some international sports leagues and the winter and summer Olympic Games.
Later this year, or early next year, most of the casinos are expected to partner with online sports wagering companies to enable Hoosiers to place sports bets from their mobile devices, without even having to leave home.
At the casino, the experience of placing a sports bet is similar to betting on a horse race at the track or an off-track betting facility.
Patrons place their wager either with a person at a walk-up window or using a nearby electronic kiosk. In return, they get a ticket listing the bet that is turned in to receive a payout if the patron has won.
State regulations require casinos to display the sporting events available for wagering, along with the corresponding odds. Bets can be placed using cash, credit or debit, though a verified patron account is required for credit, debit and mobile wagers.
According to the rules, patrons are entitled to refunds of their bets if a sporting event is cancelled for any reason.
At the same time, if a sports league believes a sporting event is fixed or manipulated, or otherwise has "good cause" as to why it shouldn't be the subject of wagers, it can request the Indiana Gaming Commission prohibit bets on a particular event or ban specific types of wagers.
Likewise, casinos and mobile sports wagering operators are required to report unusual wagering activity to all other Indiana sports wagering operators through an independent integrity monitoring provider.
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