Illinois lawmakers debated how to move forward with in-state college betting this week in a House committee.
Currently, people in Illinois can bet on in-state college teams only in person at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
Rep. Jonathan Carroll proposed HB 4041 to extend betting on in-state college teams to online and mobile apps.
Josh Whitman, athletic director at the University of Illinois, argued against expanding in-state college betting at a House Gaming Committee hearing Wednesday. He represented all 13 college athletic directors in the state.
“Our athletic programs bear 100% of the risk of the decisions that you all are making. By implementing more broad-based in-state collegiate sports gambling, the people who are placed at risk are our student athletes, our university students and the integrity of our contests. Yet there’s no resources there to help us address how to mitigate some of those risks.”
Background of Illinois in-state college betting
When the legislature passed the original bill to legalize Illinois sports betting in 2019, it did not include any wagering on in-state college athletics.
In 2021, lawmakers passed a bill to do a trial run on in-state college betting. Former Rep. Mike Zalewski, who sponsored the bill, originally asked for full in-state college betting.
Faced with opposition from Illinois university athletic directors, legislators reached a compromise. In-state college betting would start in person and lawmakers would re-evaluate the concept in two years.
In theory, if there were no issues in those first two years, lawmakers could then expand to full online wagering as Carroll intends in HB4041. About 94% of all wagers in Illinois are placed online.
If the legislature takes no action this session, Illinois will prohibit any in-state college wagering beginning July 1.
Illinois AD cites problem of college athlete harassment
Whitman contends the past two years of in-state college wagering have been difficult on college athletes. Therefore, the trial run on in-state college wagering should end rather than expand.
“Everything we were worried about when we first started having this conversation has ultimately come to pass,” Whitman said. “Our student athletes are being frequent victims of online abuse, they are being ridiculed with very hostile words.”
Whitman provided committee members with examples of social media abuse they have received over lost wagers.
“They’re 17, 18, 19 years old. … And they’re now being put in a position where they are the subject of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in gambling. Philosophically, my colleagues and I have a problem with that. And everything we had thought would happen has in fact happened over the last few years. So we very much oppose seeing this broadened to include online and mobile applications.”
Whitman said that, although he had no data to back it up, this harassment of Illinois college athletes has increased over the past two years.
“These are kids,” Whitman said. “They’re years removed from their high school prom. And all of a sudden they’re being placed at the center of this environment that you’re creating for them, not us.”
Lawmakers push back on in-state college betting issues
Whitman’s comments didn’t fully resonate with committee members.
Rep. Jeff Keicher pointed out that college athletics are big business. He said he had very little sympathy for college athletics.
“It’s part of the attraction,” Keicher said of wagering. “It’s part of the industry that you guys have built. Collegiate athletics has changed the dynamics of an amateur avocation to be pro- or semi-pro engagement.”
Rep. Anthony DeLuca added that athletes receiving endorsements for their name, image and likeness are in a different category.
Whitmer countered that only Illinois and Northwestern are Power Five conference schools. The other 11 Illinois universities compete at a very different level with a different set of resources.
Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado questioned tying online bullying to gambling.
“Social media is a place where people can say whatever they want and have no repercussions,” Delgado said.
“I think even if there wasn’t sports betting, there’s still going to be trolls that are going to come after people anyways. And we know the emotional involvement of people in sports, especially colleges. It’s insanity.”
Rep. John Cabello questioned how Whitmer knew these social media comments were coming from Illinois residents. Whitmer admitted he did not, but he suspected Illinois bettors were most interested in Illinois colleges.
“Even if we don’t do this, it won’t stop,” Cabello said. “It’s going to continue because they’re going to be able to do it in other states. I would suggest that if the colleges don’t want this that they don’t get any cuts and that we return some of that to the taxpayers that pay for the colleges in the first place.”
Revenue share with colleges could be solution
Although Whitman spoke harshly of in-state college betting and its effect on student-athletes, he suggested ways to mitigate the situation rather than end the wagering.
Whitmer suggested legislators take the following measures:
- Look into prohibiting those who are abusive to athletes from placing bets.
- Create a pool of resources available to supply mental health professionals to students who receive fan abuse.
- Provide athletic departments resources to build up their compliance staff to monitor activities and mitigate risks related to gambling.
Carroll estimated that states with legalized betting on in-state college teams saw a 20% increase in sports betting revenue.
He said he was open to discussing a revenue-sharing model for college athletic departments to get something from the wagering on their programs.
“The universities don’t see anything, and I think if we’re going to have this in place and do something like this, a conversation around providing them resources to help them, especially off the revenue made from this, should be something we talk about. A potential revenue sharing model with some of the universities to protect some of these student-athletes.”
Whitmer suggested that the legislature extend the current model of in-person wagering on in-state college sports for another year. In that time, athletic directors could work with lawmakers to come up with a thoughtful approach on moving forward.
Committee Chairman Rep. Daniel Didech said the committee would address this issue again in the next few weeks. The Illinois legislative session ends May 19.
WNBA team asks for lower license fee
The Chicago Sky asked committee members to consider a lower fee for a second-tier sports facility sports wagering license.
Delgado authored HB 4042 asking for a $3.5 million license fee for sports facilities with a seating capacity less than 12,500. The sports facility sports wagering license fee is set at $10 million.
Sky co-owner Michael Alter explained that the WNBA team is at a different level than the billion-dollar men’s professional teams and their facilities.
“What we’re really asking for is a fee that’s appropriate to who and what we are. We are not a billion-dollar enterprise like the men’s professional teams. We’re a small business. We’re looking for the fee that sort of matches that instead of this one-size fits all.”
Alter added that the market has changed since the original bill passed, when other professional teams made multimillion-dollar deals with the gaming companies.
“So we’re just asking for something appropriate for our size and where the market is today,” Alter said. “And still give the opportunity for the state to get the revenue because right now, given the way the fee is, it would not make business sense for us to [pay] a fee and there would be no revenue.”
Committee members mentioned that no professional sports facilities have an active wagering license at the $10 million. Only FanDuel, which partnered with the United Center, has submitted an application.
The committee chair talked about folding the Sky’s request into a bigger conversation about activating those licenses next year.
Responsible gambling bill advances
On Thursday, the House Gaming Committee advanced a bill to improve responsible gambling measures in the state.
The bill would require all online sports wagering operators to display a pop-up message once an hour. The message would include a person’s time spent on the app, money wagered and include a phone number for gambling addiction assistance.
Sen. Bill Cunningham sponsored SB 1508, which unanimously passed the bill by a 54-0 vote. Didech explained that the bill was written in consultation with the Illinois Gaming Board and industry representatives to ensure it could be implemented.
The committee advanced the bill by a vote of 10-0 and reported it to the House floor.