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Illinois state senators wrote a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker last month advising him that they would not support or vote for any standalone sports betting legislation, preferring to pass a more comprehensive gambling expansion package.
Legal Sports Report obtained a copy of the letter, dated April 9 and signed by 25 of 59 senators in the state.
The letter attests that the legislature has invested a considerable amount of time the past two years into developing a bipartisan full gaming package that, coupled with Illinois sports betting, would generate between $350 and $400 million annually.
In previous years, the Senate passed a bill that would add six casinos to the state, including a city-owned casino in Chicago. It also included slot machines at state racetracks and authorization for daily fantasy sports, but it stalled in the House.
“The big debate here in Illinois with a few days left in the session is that a lot of people support sports betting but a number of legislators, including myself, would like to see a more comprehensive package,” said Sen. Steve Stadelman, one of the signers of the letter.
“It’s fair to say there will be a push for a more comprehensive package among members of the Senate no matter what may come over from the House.”
Pritzker is pushing for $41.5 billion to build and repair roads, bridges, schools and parks in Illinois.
The letter focuses on the good that revenue from a larger gambling expansion can do for that effort:
“We know that a significant amount of dollars are needed to address the capital needs and with the budgetary constraints we now face. Sports betting by itself will have very limited financial impact.”
Pritzker slotted Illinois sports betting for $217 million in his state budget proposal, which he won’t be getting without a more comprehensive package, according to the senators.
“The governor is making a push for a narrow bill focused on sports betting revenue because he thinks it is easier,” Stadelman said. “The casino expansion has been bogged down. He thinks sports betting will be able to pass both chambers more easily. There are larger political dynamics that have been in play and will be in play in any bill the House sends over.”
Rep. Bob Rita, who has championed the casino expansion in the House in recent years, gained Executive Committee approval Monday to attach a comprehensive gambling proposal to the sports betting bill.
With the Illinois legislative session scheduled to end Friday, there’s not much time for legislators to work out this issue. But Stadelman points out that the details for a comprehensive gambling expansion are ready to go from previous efforts.
“We have the framework for a larger plan,” Stadelman said. “The question is whether there’s the political will to push it.”
A lack of political will might not be the worst scenario, as Illinois could use more time to get the sports betting bill right.
The letter concluded:
“Governor, we stand ready and willing to help you in passing a full gaming package that will keep gaming dollars in Illinois, help struggling communities and fund our much-needed capital projects.”