Illinois Pump-Fakes With An Online-Free Gambling Expansion Bill

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Illinois has been trying to legalize online gambling and daily fantasy sports for several years, but plans were sidetracked a bit in 2018. Sports betting took over the spotlight, with five bills introduced in the span of about six weeks.

Following the recent US Supreme Court decision, lawmakers took an apparent step to fast-track legalization of all three. A dormant casino bill was loaded up with provisions that would have created an omnibus expansion akin to Pennsylvania last year.

With just two days left in the legislative session, however, there’s not much time for discussion. If the bill is going to pass, it’s going to do so by excluding any items that lack broad support.

Right now, that list includes all forms of internet gaming and gambling.

The Illinois casino bill

The current version of S 7 would authorize six new casinos across the eastern half of the state, along with gambling terminals in the Chicago airports. It would also allow the state’s horse racing tracks to become racinos with the addition of tables and machines.

The Senate passed the bill in 2017, but it’s undergone significant changes since. Last year’s session expired with the bill stuck in an amendment loop within the House Rules Committee.

Almost a full year later, the bill suddenly came back to life in May.

Rep. Robert Rita first added his name as a sponsor, then filed an amendment last week. As reported by Online Poker Report, the new sections would allow the state to legalize online gambling, DFS, and sports betting. There are no provisions, but the articles were inserted as placeholders.

That seems to be the extent of it for now. Rita’s outline says this: “Leave internet gaming, fantasy sports, and sports betting sections blank to be resolved later.” During a committee hearing on Monday, he confirmed that those three issues are too controversial to deal with this week.

The group voted 5-4 to advance the bill, but that was one fewer than needed to move it to the floor. It remains in the House Gaming Subcommittee, which Rita chairs.

The legislature could revisit the controversial bits over the summer or, more likely, after the November elections.

No stranger to legalization attempts

Illinois has once again taken a pass on passing online gambling legislation, and it’s not for a lack of consideration. Sports betting, in particular, got a hard look this year.

Sen. Napolean Harris, a Democrat from Harvey, sponsored one of the measures to set rules, taxes and regulations for Illinois. “If they allow sports gambling in Indiana before they do Illinois, I can see a lot of Illinoisans just jumping the border, placing bets,” Harris said to NPR Illinois.

Harris’ bill is one of several active across both chambers of the Illinois legislature. Lawmakers considered the issue at an intermediate level, including a round of hearings in April. Steve Brubaker posted on Twitter that MLB, NBA, and PGA had hired lobbyists in the state, and league lawyers were present to provide testimony.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would have legalized online casino games in 2017. Bills concerning online poker and DFS followed in the latter half of the year. None of them made it through the House.

Even DFS remains illegal under existing law, as stated by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Despite this, operators are still active in the state. DraftKings and FanDuel still serve the state, along with most of their competitors.

Four years into the conversion, lawmakers have yet to pass any relevant bill. Five of them carried over into 2018 without consideration.

Expected revenue back to Illinois with legalization

The Chicago Tribune reported that supporters of legalization and taxation of sports betting expect the legalization to produce revenue for the state and change the black market industry.

The competition from the other gambling proposals for new casinos, fantasy sports, and slot machines at racetracks may affect its passage. Rep. Lou Lang told the Tribune that the odds are against passage by the adjournment date.

In total, he said that sports betting would generate less than $100 million a year for state coffers. A study from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC showed earnings could total about $680 million in the state and tens of millions in tax revenue.

Still, casinos would be subject to licensing and integrity fees and would be limited to Illinois residents. Wagers would be taxed at 12.5 percent.

Illinois casino operators and the Illinois Casino Gaming Association are concerned about high taxes and fees. The fees could consume 20 percent of the proceeds.

The same concerns come with legalization about the “human cost of this type of gambling.”

Katie Callahan

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Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.

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