After Late Flurry, Legal Illinois Sports Betting Looks Like It’s On Hold For Now

Written By

Updated on

Illinois sports betting wait

You can probably scratch Illinois off the list of states that might have sports betting this year.

After months of consideration and a false alarm in the eleventh hour, the issue has run up against tomorrow’s scheduled adjournment.

Lawmakers could still rekindle their discussions later this year, but Illinois sports betting looks to be on hold for now

IL sports betting in 2018

If we’d been handicapping states around March 1, Illinois would have been among the favorites to get something done this year. Lawmakers there were as ambitious as any group in the country.

Beginning in January, five different sports betting bills came to light within the span of about six weeks. Only Kansas put more individual bills on file.

Proposals covered the entire spectrum of options, from land-based to mobile and internet wagering, via riverboat casinos and/or racetracks, each under a unique framework of taxes and fees. One would have allowed the gaming board to prohibit sports betting entirely.

Some of the bills showed signs of lobbying influence from the NBA and Major League Baseball, too. Sen. Napoleon Harris is a retired NFL player, so it was perhaps no surprise to see the leagues’ integrity fees included in his.

The Senate Gaming Committee held a public hearing in April, its first opportunity to lay the bills side by side for comparison. League lawyers testified in support of Harris’ framework, but there was plenty of opposition in the room, too.

The general tone of the conversation made it clear that lawmakers still had a lot of work left to do.

The Illinois casino bill reappears

A new path forward seemed to be materializing late last week.

Rep. Robert Rita rekindled a dormant Chicago casino bill, attempting to convert it into an omnibus expansion a la Pennsylvania in 2017. Rita added placeholder articles to legalize sports betting, daily fantasy sports and online gambling.

The House Gaming Subcommittee promptly scheduled a pair of hearings to revisit the bill.

It’s not clear if the sponsor was just posturing or legitimately trying to advance the conversation, but it soon became obvious that these new articles had no chance of inclusion. Rita quietly told the committee that the new items would require more work than can be done before adjournment.

Online Poker Report also obtained Rita’s outline, which said this: “Leave internet gaming, fantasy sports and sports betting sections blank to be resolved later.”

The committee voted 5-4 to advance the amended bill, but that was still one too few to send it onto the Senate floor. To date, no Illinois bill containing sports betting language has escaped out of committee.

Here’s the latest, including opposition from Chicago’s mayor.

Where’s the opposition?

Well, everywhere really. There are a lot of voices of concern in Illinois.

Let’s start with the sports leagues. As mentioned, they testified in support of IL sports betting, but only if it happens under Sen. Harris’ bill. His is the only one that includes league provisions.

Most states have dismissed league requests, but Illinois is a different beast. All four professional sports leagues have franchises in the state, including a pair of MLB teams. Chicago is one of the top two or three US cities for sports, and the associated revenue bolsters the entire economy throughout the year.

Compare that to, say, West Virginia, where athletics are basically limited to two Division I colleges. So the sports leagues may have a bit more pull in Illinois than they do in some states.

Bills that restrict wagering to either casinos or racetracks draw opposition from the other group, naturally. And any bill that expands gambling sparks concern from video gaming retailers. If folks can gamble on their phone, they argue, why would they drive to the slot parlor?

Some of the resistance comes from within the legislature itself, too. Rep. Lou Lang, who filed the very first sports betting bill this year, tempered his ambitions in recent comments to the Daily Herald.

“I learned that some states were so much in a hurry to pass a law on this that they screwed it up,” Lang said. “We’re not going to screw it up.”

It’s not just Lang who’s uncertain. An informal poll from the News-Gazette found just 21 of 55 lawmakers who support (or lean toward supporting) sports gambling.

Any hope left this year?

There are still a couple paths by which the sports betting conversation could resume in 2018.

The first would be via a special session. If Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes the legislature’s budget, the legislature could return to try again June. Since many of them hope to allocate more gambling revenue to existing shortfalls, these issues could be reintroduced as partial solutions. Lawmakers are on the brink of a bipartisan budget there; the latest reports say Rauner will sign it.

Lawmakers could also just sit on sports betting until after the November elections. That’d give them about six months to craft a good compromise bill, and to drum up enough knowledge and support to give it a shot.

Even if one of those scenarios comes to pass, though, you won’t be placing a sports bet in Illinois this year. And given the opposition that remains, quick progress seems unlikely.

“It’s more important that we do it right than do it fast,” Lang said.