Will 2019 Be The Year Illinois Legalizes Sports Betting?

Shakeup In Illinois Politics Could Open The Door For Gambling Expansion

Illinois sports betting

With the potential for a new governor, new Chicago mayor and a shakeup in the state’s legislative officers, politics might finally align for passing a gambling expansion bill including Illinois sports betting.

Cory Aronovitz, founding partner of Casino Law Group in Chicago, predicted 2019 will be the year where Illinois sees legislative movement towards more forms of socially acceptable activities. Several different gaming issues could be on the table when the 2019 legislative session begins, including sports betting and internet gaming.

A hearing to discuss Illinois sports betting is set for October 17 in Springfield, which could gauge the appetite lawmakers have for gambling expansion.

Pending gambling legislation in Illinois

It’s hard to single out a direct cause as to why gambling bills have failed in The Land of Lincoln. Senate Bill 7, sponsored by state Rep. Robert Rita, a Democrat, was first introduced in January 2017 and has been stuck in legislative purgatory ever since.

Viewed as one massive gambling expansion bill with amendments, much like Pennsylvania’s, SB 7 in Illinois includes several gambling components that could affect many stakeholders. It contains legislation aimed at daily fantasy sports and iGaming, as well as sports betting. It also would pave the way for a Chicago Casino Development Authority, as well as six new casinos in the state.

The bill was referred to the five-member House Rules Committee on May 31 during this year’s legislature. It previously passed the Senate and remains mired in the other chamber.

What does this mean for Chicago?

The country’s third-largest city remains without gambling. In recent years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s unwillingness to budge on a city-owned casino and his aversion for video gaming terminals affected the situation.

In May, a top advisor for Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times, “if there is gaming in Chicago, it would have to be under a different tax and revenue-sharing structure where more money comes back to local government.”

But everything could change as Emanuel announced recently that he will not seek a third term in office.

“There is no question that Mayor Emanuel has been an outspoken proponent of a casino for Chicago,” Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang told LSR. “But the issue certainly is not dead.”

As a strong supporter of gambling legislation, Lang said it’s still too early to determine where each candidate stands on gambling.

Opening the door to Illinois sports betting and iGaming

The office of mayor of Chicago comes with a great deal of political clout, which could be the determining factor on if gambling enters the city.

Lang anticipates that, much like the state’s Video Gaming Act where municipalities have the option to opt in or out, any new legislation pertaining to DFS, sports betting or iGaming will come with similar conditions.

Considering sports betting is a low-margin revenue generator, it will be extremely important that any new mayor embraces it on a wider scale.

Donna More, a partner with Fox Rothschild in Chicago, said one of the main goals for the new mayor will be to find solutions to the city’s economic woes.

“Any of these candidates and potentially a new mayor has to find ways to raise revenue,” More said. “Is gaming a revenue generating vehicle, yes. Is it going to generate enough to fund pension, no. Could it provide property tax relief, maybe.”

Aronovitz agree that anyone wishing to govern a city with a population of 2.7 million has to be open to all forms of revenue.

“Whoever takes over, if they embrace gaming, will look at it from the standpoint of what makes the most sense to preserve the integrity of the gambling environment and maximize revenue for the city and state,” he said.

Nicholaus Garcia
- Nick comes from West Texas where he graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in psychology. After a five-year stint in Chicago, where he wrote about local politics and graduated with a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, he moved to Washington, D.C. to write about issues related to gambling policy, sports betting and responsible gaming.