Mexican Gaming Company Caliente Interactive Closes in on Illinois Sports Betting License

Mexican Gaming Company Caliente Interactive Closes in on Illinois Sports Betting License
By Christopher Boan
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

One of the biggest sportsbook companies in Mexico took a significant step to gaining entry into the Illinois sports betting marketplace Thursday afternoon.  

Caliente Interactive, which is based in Tijuana, was the only company out of three entrants to be deemed fit for a mobile-only license by the Illinois Gaming Board. Fubo Sportsbook and another, unnamed entity, were not selected to continue forward in the process.

Marcus Fruchter, who serves as the administrator of the IGB, told the board during their meeting Thursday that Caliente Interactive was the best option available to fill one of the state’s three mobile sports betting licenses, but declined to elaborate on the company’s application.

“Caliente Interactive meets the minimum qualifications for licensure under the act, and is therefore deemed a qualified applicant,” Fruchter said.  

Jorge Hank Rhon, the flamboyant and controversial owner of Caliente Interactive’s parent company, is the former mayor of Tijuana and has run for Governor of Baja California three different times. 

Another applicant the IGB did not name submitted an application for a license but withdrew it, Fruchter said. A fourth applicant missed the submission deadline and was subsequently disqualified from the process.

National Operators Move Ahead Without Mobile Licenses

Each of the state’s mobile sports betting licenses costs $20 million Three applications were accepted during the state’s application window, which ran from Aug. 5 through Dec. 3, Fruchter said.

That high price prompted most of the major national sportsbooks — BetMGM, BetRivers, Barstool Sportsbook, Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet — to enter the market by partnering with existing casinos and racetracks in the state.

But customers who wanted to participate in online sports betting had to register in person at an operator’s retail location. According to the state’s 2019 sports betting law, in-person registration would only be waived when a mobile-only license was awarded.

In December, however, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 3136, which ended in-person registration.

That law went into effect March 5, and BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings were among the first companies to launch fully mobile sports betting sites in the state.

Fubo Sportsbook Decries Illinois Gaming Board’s Decision

Fubo Sportsbook, which was the only other applicant named by the IGB, denounced the board’s decision to decline their application.  

In a statement to IllinoisBet.com, a representative from Fubo Sportsbook said the board’s decision is nonsensical, given the company’s standing licenses in Iowa and Arizona.  

“In December 2021, Fubo Gaming participated in a competitive bidding process in connection with up to three online-only master sports wagering licenses in the State of Illinois,” Fubo said in the statement. “The Illinois Gaming Board determined yesterday that a ‘key person’ associated with the company was ineligible for licensure and therefore the company was disqualified as a bidder.

“The disqualification was based on a portion of a statute unique to the competitive bidding process and the specific license available in connection with the process. Fubo Gaming has been issued operating licenses by gaming regulators in other states, each following extensive background investigations into the company and its principals. The basis for which the company has now been disqualified in Illinois did not preclude its licensure by these other states.

“Fubo Gaming respectfully disagrees with the decision of the Illinois Gaming Board and believes the company meets the standards to continue through the competitive selection process. Fubo Gaming is currently evaluating its options following the decision yesterday.” 

The IGB said it still plans on filling out the remaining two mobile sports betting licenses, though no timeframe was given by Fruchter during Thursday’s meeting.

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Contributors

Christopher Boan is a lead writer at IllinoisBet.com specializing in covering state issues. He covered sports and sports betting in Arizona for more than seven years, including stops at ArizonaSports.com, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.

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