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Political will is building for Illinois sports betting with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers and the governor working toward passing a comprehensive gambling expansion bill including sports betting by Friday’s deadline, even if language for the legislation doesn’t yet exist.
In most states, the lack of specifics for a large gambling expansion bill three days before the end of the legislative session might be a hindrance to its prospects.
In Illinois, the curtain is raising on behind-the-scenes discussions and it appears that a casino expansion effort, bolstered by sports betting, has a lot of momentum with bipartisan support.
Speaking at a press conference organized by labor leaders Tuesday, Sen. Terry Link stated that S 516, currently a shell bill known as the Riverboat Gambling Act, is likely to be filled out and heard on the House floor Wednesday or Thursday.
“The bill that will be passed will not be amended in the other house,” Link said. “I look forward to making it happen this week and [getting the] governor to sign in the very near future.”
Illinois changes sports betting vehicles the way a bank robber might change getaway vehicles.
Rep. Mike Zalewski began the legislative session by introducing H 3308, which was given five proposed amendments as directions that the legislature could take sports betting.
That seemed like the perfect vehicle for the legislation, named as the Sports Wagering Act, but Zalewski’s next round of amendments was instead done to H 1260. That bill will die Wednesday if it does not pass the House.
The Senate has always planned S 516 as a gambling expansion bill, and now Rep. Bob Rita, who led three sports betting hearings in the House this session, has signed on as the House’s chief sponsor of the legislation.
“The point is we’re consolidating everything, we’re putting it in one bill, and this is a request of all four caucuses of actually wanting one bill,” Link said. “We’re dealing with all things in one bill so legislators have to take one vote on this.”
In February, Gov. J.B. Pritzker put sports betting revenue in his state budget proposal to the tune of $217 million.
So it’s no surprise that he is actively engaged in negotiations with the legislature to pass the bill.
As Legal Sports Report reported Tuesday, Senators sent Pritzker a letter indicated that they would not pass a standalone sports betting bill without a fuller gambling expansion.
The letter seemed to have its desired effect, as Link attested that the Governor is supporting the comprehensive package.
“I want to thank this Governor for being actively involved in the negotiations that have been going on, actively involved to make sure this bill passes, actively involved in the day-to-day steps we’ve been taking,” Link said. “… It’s nice to see a governor right now actively working with both sides of the aisle to make sure that this passes.”
Rita assured that sports betting would be part of the comprehensive gaming expansion amendment offered in the next couple of days.
He and Link were involved in a previous effort at gambling expansion that died in the House last year after getting passed by the Senate.
Rita believes that the addition of sports betting is a reason the bill will pass this time around, along with support from the governor and urgency to improve Illinois’ gambling industry to compete with neighboring states that are making their own moves.
“We didn’t have sports betting in the past when we were working on trying to put through a piece of legislation,” Rita said. “I believe this is a component that actually helps us.”
Officially, seven amendments with sports betting language have been proposed in Illinois this session.
None of them have been an objectively great policy, and the latest sports betting amendment floated by Zalewski last week as his final effort would hamstring industry stakeholders with high fees, taxes and an 18-month delay on mobile wagering.
The latter element was in lieu of a polarizing penalty box issue.
A representative for Zalewski says the sports betting language is still in flux, and Rita indicated that there could be some changes for the better.
“We’re working through the language,” Rita said. “We’ve been moving some things around trying to make this bill right.”
Nobody in the Illinois Legislature seems too concerned that language for the gambling expansion isn’t done with three days left in the session.
“We have plenty of time,” said Link, who added that the issue would be handled by Friday and not in a special session over the summer. “The bill is being drafted. It’s not like this is all new concepts. We’re working off of bills that we’ve done in the past.”
Language for much of the bill is expected to be similar to S 7, the bill that died in the House last session. That bill would have added six casinos to the existing 10 riverboat casinos in the state, including a land-based casino in Chicago, and authorized slot machines at racetracks.
“We are running out of time for the state of Illinois,” said Sen. Dave Syverson. “For some of us in locations like Rockford and Danville, we don’t have another year. States will have built and approved massive casinos and will be way ahead of us and taking even more out of Illinois.”
Asked about complications from the ongoing fight regarding a penalty box, Syverson had the response of the day:
“If we don’t pass something, we’re all in the penalty box. Over the years, we’ve dealt with much more complicated issues and come to a conclusion. The bottom line is, we have to do this.”