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Incoming Gov. J.B. Pritzker will include revenue from Illinois sports betting when delivering his budget proposal to the state legislature Wednesday, according to an advance briefing to lawmakers Tuesday.
As the new Democratic governor who upended a Republican incumbent, Pritzker holds a lot of sway with his party members. Democrats dominate in each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly.
Illinois Rep. Mike Zalewski, who soon plans to introduce a sports betting bill, tells Legal Sports Report that Pritzker backing IL sports betting will be “a huge help” to his efforts.
“He’s trying to rectify a budget situation that’s four years in the making, and he sees sports betting as part of that solution,” Zalewski said. “He’s an incoming Democratic governor who won by a wide amount. Those in our caucus want to give him what he asks for to lead us.
“To have him ask for sports betting, I think we’ll be supportive of it.”
Pritzker directed his party-dominated legislature that he wants sports betting revenue for the next fiscal year. Now it’s their job to make it happen.
While that might sound simple, nothing regarding gambling ever is easy in the Illinois legislature.
“He’s going to say he wants it but defer to the legislature to get it done, and it will be a huge challenge for us,” said Zalewski, who chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee. “I know everyone wants it and there’s no reason not to do it but, as someone who has fought this fight, it’s still going to be hard.”
Zalewski knows this challenge firsthand. He was confident that he was going to get daily fantasy sports legislation passed in Illinois three years ago, only to see it fall apart with opposition from other stakeholders.
In the past two years, Rep. Bob Rita tried unsuccessfully to push a comprehensive gambling expansion bill that would have included legal sports betting, DFS, online poker and iGaming. It also would authorize up to six new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago.
“Every gaming bill in this state the last 10 years has collapsed under its own weight,” Zalewski said. “It’s a really hard topic because there’s so many interests trying to get the best deal they can for themselves.”
Illinois has 10 riverboat casinos, three racetracks, close to 30 off-track betting parlors and more than 6,000 slot parlors.
“If you’re a longstanding casino owner and see the state considering a model that directly affects that space, you’re going to want to have a say in it,” Zalewski said.
“If you’re a long-suffering racetrack owner watching the industry dry up a little bit, you’re going to want to have a stake in it. If you’re someone who invested a lot of money into an online gaming company, you’re going to want to have a say in anything that legalizes sports betting.”
Zalewski expects three or four related IL sports betting bills to be filed, including the reintroduced legislation from Sen. Napoleon Harris.
Zaleweski is leery of what happened with DFS three years ago, and what always seems to happen with gambling expansion bills in Illinois. But he feels confident that the gaming interests can come together on sports betting.
“I think sports betting is sort of a glue kind of model, as each stakeholder can benefit it yet none of them needs it to maintain their main business model,” Zalewski said. “It’s a lead in to get people in the door. I think it’s something that can unite these different stakeholders in a way that nothing has before. That’s the reason I think it can happen.”
It’s not likely to be settled until the second half of May, as the legislature looks to have the budget done before its session concludes at the end of that month.
Zalewski isn’t ready to disclose what his Illinois sports betting bill will include. He provided some insights into where he stands on the key issues of mobile wagering and integrity fees.
Statewide online and mobile wagering seems to be a good bet to be in the bill.
“I think it’s a crucial part of any modern marketplace and I think it’s got to be included in any permutation that has a realistic chance of passing because if you’re relaying on people to go to a place to do anything these days, I think you’re being shortsighted as a policymaker. I think we would be remiss if we didn’t include some sort of mobile platform to fully capture the modern market.”
While he doesn’t know that it needs to be a percentage of handle, Zalewski does think leagues need to get something from the legislation, as do all stakeholders. He noted that sports teams in Illinois have a deeper involvement in politics than in other states.
“There’s a unique nexus between Illinois politics and sports where it will be incredibly difficult to tell teams we’re just going to go ahead without you,” Zalewski said. “It seems unrealistic to me.
“When you are looking to pass a bill, you have to consider opponents and I think the leagues and teams in Chicago will be difficult to navigate if you don’t at least bring them into the conversation.”