Bears, Rush Street Interactive Agree to Multi-year Exclusive Partnership

Chicago Bears and Rush Street Sign
Sponsorship Deal

Chicago Bears

Image: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Bears, Rush Street Interactive Agree to Multi-year Exclusive Partnership

The new deal makes Rivers Casino and BetRivers official casino and official sportsbook partners of the NFL team.

The NFL’s Chicago Bears are searching for a location to build their new stadium, but they did not have to look too far in their search for gaming partners. The famed NFL franchise released an announcement on Tuesday, stating that it has agreed to an exclusive multi-year deal with Chicago-based company Rush Street Interactive. According to the new agreement, BetRivers and Rivers Casino will become the team’s official sportsbook and official casino partners.

BetRivers became the first sportsbook in the state to run both retail and mobile sports betting last year, while Des Plaines- based Rivers Casino tops the revenue generated list among the ten casinos in Illinois.

In a statement after the deal was agreed, Rush Street Interactive executive chairman and co-founder Neil Bluhm said: “I have been a Bears fan my entire life; that’s our hometown team. To have BetRivers and Rivers Casino become the franchise’s official Sportsbook and Casino partner is super thrilling. The next step is to develop our relationship with the team and its fan base by providing cutting-edge products and offering a top-notch customer experience. This deal also emphasizes the fact that we remain loyal to hometown teams in every state where we operate online and land-based sportsbooks.”

According to the details of the agreement, BetRivers and Rivers Casino will get a mix of social, digital, and print assets, as well as prominent in-stadium signage’. Added to that, BetRivers will have title rights on a game that’s free to play on the Bears’ mobile app via Verizon. The sportsbook operators will also get the chance to put up promotions and collaborations that include exclusive Bears prizes for customers when betting on the team. The NFL team had formerly appointed PointsBet as official sports betting sponsors in September of 2020.

Ted Phillips, President and CEO of the Bears, said to the press: “We are so thrilled to introduce BetRivers and Rivers Casino as our first exclusive sportsbook and casino partners. To be able to form this partnership with a hometown company fills us with pride, and we look forward to working with them to bring more exciting, unique ways with which we can connect with our fans.”

New Deal Adds to Intrigue for Bears

Partnering with Rush Street Interactive’s sports betting and casino offerings at a time when there’s been more talk about the Bears’ potential move to Arlington Heights created more buzz around the organization. Just last Thursday, the team revealed it had submitted a bid for the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Arlington International Racecourse site.

CDI bought a 62% stake in Rivers Casino worth $407 million early in 2019. The purchase was part of the company’s move away from initial plans to construct a racino at Arlington Heights, a project which they’d long identified as a unique opportunity and one which finally became allowed following Gov. Pritzker’s gaming expansion bill in June 2019.

The Kentucky-based company stated in August 2019 that it would not go in for a racino license due to the non-competitive tax rates. In July 2020, the company announced that it wasn’t looking to get a sports betting license at Arlington. The track, which has been active for 93 years, is just some 12 miles away from Rivers casino and is presently hosting what appears to be its final horse racing year.

Churchill Downs revealed plans to sell the racetrack site back in February. The Chicago Bears may have submitted a bid, but a rule prohibiting ‘negative use restrictions’ was passed by the Village of Arlington Heights in May and could mean it’s possible that horse racing continues at the track.

The Bears have a lease for Soldier Field -their current home- that’s active until 2033. Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement on Twitter in response to the Bears’ bid where she highlighted that the city’s still locked in negotiations with the team regarding improvements at their current home. She referred to the bid as a negotiation tactic that had been used before and asked the team to worry more about on-field activities.

RSI Continues Pursuit of Illinois Sports Betting Dollars

Illinois has just six mobile sportsbooks, and access to mobile betting only comes after in-person registration. With that in mind, Rush Street Interactive is positioning BetRivers and Rivers Casino to receive Bears fans as it looks to grow its digital base, with the potential to offer iGaming much later on.

Northwest Indiana has three casinos that are less than an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago. Still, Rivers Casino, stationed close to O’Hare Airport, is the nearest Illinois-based casino to The Loop. The casino has gained revenue of almost $158.2 million over the first five months of 2021, amounting to 37.2% of the Illinois casino market revenue. Its $58.9 million revenue generated in table games this year is greater than the total from the state’s other nine casinos.

Of the seven casinos and eleven venues operating retail sports betting (including the two off-track retail sportsbooks belonging to Hawthorne Race Course), BetRivers remains the dominant force. Its sports betting handle of nearly $88.5 million counts for 56% of the in-person handle in the state. The operator’s total retail sports betting revenue generated is almost $7.8 million, and it remains the only sportsbook in the state to have made over $1 million in one month.

According to a recent report from the Illinois Gaming Board, Illinois ranked second in the US for sports betting handle in April, behind New Jersey. The state has already established itself in the top-five US markets for sports betting with a booming online presence that accounts for over 96% of the total amount wagered ($4.4 billion) since bets were first taken in March last year.

May’s revenue statement will see BetRivers’ handle pass the $1 billion mark, while its online sports betting revenue of $74.4 million is only surpassed by FanDuel and DraftKings’ $89.6 million and $82.6 million.

Despite launching for mobile before DraftKings and FanDuel, both operators overtook BetRivers in online sports betting rankings in Illinois. Despite Rush Street’s fierce influencing efforts, this took place, which brought about a clause in the gaming expansion bill that restricted the Illinois Gaming Board from accepting online sports betting license applications until the initial retail licenses were more than 18 months. The online license cost $20 million, twice its retail counterpart.

FanDuel and DraftKings avoided the waiting time by partnering with casino venues in Illinois. FanDuel first went in through East Peoria’s Par-A-Dice casino in September last year. In March, the operator opened a retail book after renaming Collinsville’s Fairmount Park to FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing. As for DraftKings, a recent announcement revealed plans for a $10 million expansion which will contain a new sportsbook. This came after the operator rebranded Casino Queen in August 2020.

BetRivers’ peak handle of almost $125 million last November accounted for 28.8% of the total handle for that month. However, its April handle of $72.7 million only amounted to 14.1% of the online handle in the state, after newcomer Barstool’s first full month generated over $50 million in handle.

The NFL off-season has contributed in part to the drops in handle and market share, illustrating just how important the league is to sports betting. That importance is set to increase next season as the NFL has fully embraced legalized sports betting. According to a report from the IGB, football betting in Illinois has amounted to almost $935 million – the report does not go into the details of pro and college football wagering. That figure is only topped by basketball and does not even factor in parlay betting, a hugely popular option during the NFL season, accounting for almost $310 million in bets between September and December.

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