It has the look and feel of a Las Vegas sportsbook, but a new bar within Rivers Casino in Des Plaines won't allow patrons to place bets just yet.
The state's most lucrative casino on Friday opened the BetRivers SportsBar within a 4,840-square-foot space just off the gambling floor, but plans call for it to soon become an official sports wagering venue, pending regulatory approval.
Casino owners Rush Street Gaming and Churchill Downs Inc. are awaiting new Illinois Gaming Board rules and regulations on sports betting, and the release of applications for a $10 million sports betting license. That could come by the board's next meeting on Thursday.
But casino officials say they wanted to be ready before then, so they spent the last three-and-a-half months transforming the former Cube nightclub and special event lounge.
The refurbished bar's marquee feature is a state-of-the-art 47-foot-wide ultra HD LED video wall -- allowing fans to watch as many as 27 games at a time, depending on the configuration of the adjustable mega screen. There are 14 other TVs throughout the lounge, 32 leather lounge chairs and a full-service island bar. More than two dozen bar seats have video gambling touch screens.
Rivers officials released architectural renderings of the bar, but said the new space couldn't yet be photographed due to rules of the gaming board.
Work crews also carved out space for five betting windows and a betting kiosk, equipping walls on both sides of the bar with wiring so the sportsbook can flip the switch when state regulators give their OK.
"We want to be prepared and primed once we know what the Illinois regulatory requirements are," said Corey Wise, the casino's general manager, during a media tour of the casino renovations Friday morning. "We're ready to go once the state is ready to go."
Already, gamblers have started asking when they can bet on sports within the confines of the casino.
"Fourteen seconds (after the sports bar's opening), someone played their first slot," Wise said. "I had my first inquiry on sports betting 30 seconds later."
Rivers on Friday also unveiled eight new table games just outside the sports bar, for a total of 67 casinowide. The casino is adding incremental gambling positions to its existing footprint since the new state gambling law approved in June enabled it to expand from 1,200 to 2,000 positions.
And last month, the casino became the first in Illinois to get state gaming board approval for formal land-based gambling. That allowed Rivers to install 115 slot machines throughout the casino site -- and not just above its single-level, 44,000-square-foot gambling floor, which was built over a six-inch-deep, 144,000-gallon water tank.
Rivers, which opened in 2011, was formally the state's 10 riverboat casino, but the new state gambling law removed the water requirement, while opening up the possibility for six new casinos statewide.
Rivers' new slots now line the skywalk from the parking garage to main casino, and come Monday, the plan is turn on more machines right at the front entrance.
Because the new law allows Rivers to add even more slots and table games, plans to expand the building are being drawn up, though Wise said it's too early to say how large of an expansion it might be or even where on the campus an addition would be located.
Already, though, construction has begun to expand the five-story, 1,550-space parking garage with 750 more spaces. The $24 million project, which recently received approval from the gaming board and Des Plaines city council, is targeted for completion next summer.