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No Plans Looming For Illinois Online Casino Legislation In 2024

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 21, 2024
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Despite a recent committee quirk, Illinois online casino legislation won’t get a hearing anytime soon.

On Monday, the House Gaming Committee posted a hearing scheduled for Wednesday with online casino legislation as a topic. The committee hearing quickly was marked as canceled. House Gaming Committee Chairman Dan Didech told PlayUSA that the hearing was never really scheduled.

“[A hearing] is unlikely in the immediate future,” Didech said. “I wouldn’t read too much into what gets posted for hearing. The default is that every bill in the committee gets posted every week.”

Didech added not to expect a gaming committee hearing until after the March 19 Illinois primary election.

Rep. Edgar Gonzalez’s HB 2239, which carried over from last year, was assigned to the gaming committee on Jan. 29. Gonzalez told PlayUSA the action wasn’t made with any plans to move the bill.

“At this point, me asking for it to be moved out of rules and assigned to the Gaming Committee is just for the conversation not to die. I’m not sure it will get out of committee or even get a hearing. Quite a few people have some apprehension with the bill. I think we definitely need to lay a bit more groundwork before we have one of the public-facing subject matter hearings. Until then, I’m trying to go member-by-member and educate people on this.”

Illinois iGaming will stay on backburner until something changes

Sen. Cristina Castro’s SB 1656 in the Senate also carried over from last session. As chair of the executive committee, Castro assigned the bill Feb. 8 to the Subcommittee on Gaming, Wagering and Racing. But she also told PlayUSA here are no plans for a hearing.

“As chair of the executive committee, I think it’s too early to say whether a proposal will or will not advance, especially while bills are still being filed and committees are beginning to meet,” Castro said. “We’re in the early stages of the spring session, so it’s possible the issue could be heard at a later date.”

PlayUSA tracks all online casino bills introduced across the country.

Didech took over as gaming committee chair this year from Rep. Bob Rita, who wasn’t a fan of online casinos. Didech is more open to it but said he was unsure whether online casinos will warrant a hearing this session, which concludes May 24.

“I know people are pushing for iGaming every year, and I think it’s something the state probably will do eventually. It’s the direction most of the country is going and Illinois will probably be no different in that sometime we’ll do iGaming. Whether now is the right time to do it is the problem and an open question.”

As to why Illinois wouldn’t want to look at iGaming this year, Didech pointed out that the Illinois Gaming Board still hasn’t finished implementing the last gambling expansion authorized by the legislature in 2019, which included online sports betting. He’s also wary of online casino’s impact on the existing Illinois gaming industry.

Illinois online casino still faces VGT opposition

Since authorized by the legislature in 2009, video gaming terminals in bars, taverns, gas stations and truck stops have become the biggest part of the Illinois gaming industry. Bonus.com explained the economic impact of VGTs in Illinois.

VGTs bring more tax revenue to the state than Illinois casinos and sports betting combined. They also benefit local businesses in the districts of every legislator.

As convenience gaming, VGT operators argue that online casino would most directly impact their revenue.

Currently, the quickest way for most Illinoisians to gamble in Illinois is by doing so at the VGTs they come across on a daily basis. If Illinois authorizes online casino apps on phones, that will be the new quickest path. Of course, offshore companies are already illegally offering iGaming apps in Illinois.

Gonzalez said that a lot of legislators have heard from the VGT community regarding concerns about iGaming.

“People in the VGT community tell me they’re concerned that we need to let their market grow and stand on more solid ground before we consider something like this. They feel it hurts their bottom line. In my head, I think this will be OK and the tax revenue we’re missing out on from iGaming, about $250 million, could go toward funding education or maybe shoring up our pension system.”

More than a public hearing, Gonzalez said he would like to get VGT representatives in the same room with online casino advocates to discuss a path forward.

“I hope to eventually have some constructive conversations about this. I consider a lot of the VGT guys friends and think this is just a matter of talking to everybody. You can hear from one side one day and the other another day, but I’d rather have everyone sit down at both sides of the table. I would love for it to happen this year, even if it’s after the session is over.”

Didech mentioned one possible compromise he has heard — offering VGT operators access to the huge Chicago market in return for dropping opposition to iGaming.

“I know the City of Chicago has a lot of financial needs and is by far the largest city in our state that has opted out of VGT licensing. Given the financial realities for the City of Chicago, I think we really need to be looking at expanding VGTs in Chicago.”

Hearing late in session could improve future prospects

Gonzalez said the election year will make it difficult for Illinois online casino legislation to make any progress this session.

“This is an election year where everyone is up for reelection. I’m realistic that this is going to take some time. I’m only 27 right now, so I probably have quite a bit of time to worry about this.”

Gonzalez said he would like the opportunity to play regulated online poker in Illinois and he knows there are many other people from his generation who want safe options to gamble online. He sometimes plays online poker using virtual money on the WSOP app.

“I wish it could be with real money because I win. I think the people who enjoy iGaming are probably people from my generation. The market is different, with younger men like myself who do it on their phone or computer.”

Gonzalez does think that it makes sense for legislators to hold a hearing on iGaming late in the session. That way, if the state finds a budget crunch upcoming, lawmakers will be more aware on the issue.

“If we’re hit with a recession of some kind in the near future, with adjustments from the federal reserve on interest rates, or maybe with upcoming elections the world economy might scatter a bit, that might cause reason for reconsideration of this bill sometime in the future. If we need to shore up our finances, this will definitely be under consideration. And it’s important to have those discussions now to be ready.”

Chair proposes problem gambling task force

As Illinois continues to institute one large gambling expansion and considers more, Didech would like the state to take a deeper look at problem gambling.

He introduced legislation to create a problem gambling task force. House Bill 5307 would “provide recommendations to the General Assembly on how the State should continue to meet its responsibility to assist those who suffer from a gambling problem or disorder.”

“I think our gambling expansion has been a success for Illinois, but it’s our responsibility to be aware of the effects of that legislation and what, if anything, we need to do to mitigate those effects,” Didech said. “Anything we do to address problem gambling needs to be data and evidence driven.”

Didech said he hopes to address the creation of the problem gambling task force in committee later this session. But he didn’t make any guarantees.

“As chair of the committee, I’m kind of the quarterback but I’m not the only person on the team. It’s certainly something we should be looking at, but there’s a lot of people involved in the process. Problem gambling is the sort of thing that always exists and we want to keep looking at it. Sustained feedback over time I think would be helpful to us.”

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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