Illinois lawmakers told to narrow focus for sports betting success

18 October 2018

Illinois lawmakers have been urged to pursue in-venue sports betting to ensure the state’s millions of residents will be able to wager legally by the start of the next NFL season.

State Representatives attended a hearing on sports betting, online gaming and fantasy sports at the state Capitol on Wednesday, at which executives from gambling operators and opponents of the sector gave testimony.

Organiser Rep Bob Rita, a proponent of the sector’s development in Illinois, arranged the hearing with the hope of proceeding quickly with proposals for legislation to legalise and regulate betting and online gaming soon after the November elections.

While the hearing lasted more than five hours, a spokesperson for Rep Rita told iGamingBusiness.com that “a lot of unanswered questions” remained and “there is a lot more work to do on the issue”.

He added: “The next steps will become clearer in the weeks to come, but it will involve meeting again with the various stakeholders to talk through all of the issues.”

However, attorney Cory Aronovitz, the founder of Chicago-based Casino Law Group, told iGamingBusiness.com that the lawmakers who want Illinois to follow states such as New Jersey in legalising sports betting should simplify matters by removing it from any other gambling legislation and limiting it to over-the-counter and mobile wagering at licensed venues such as casinos, racetracks and stadiums.

Aronovitz believes such narrow focus might ensure new legislation is more successful than Rep Rita’s Senate Bill 7, which considered betting, fantasy sports, online gaming and casino expansion, but ultimately stalled earlier this year.

“I believe a standalone bill that legalises sports wagering in Illinois would be politically palatable and would have industry wide support,” said Aronovitz.

“Separating sports wagering from the larger gaming expansion bill would allow the industry to quickly implement additional gaming that has social acceptance and which would generate additional revenue for the state.”

Aronovitz believes there are too many concerns over universal mobile gambling – from the potential for problem gambling to the possible effects on stadium attendances – for it to progress through the state Capitol at the present time. He added that “mobile platform can expand over time after understanding the impact”.

The attorney said the best chance of wagering being available in time for the start of the next NFL season, in September 2019, would be for a bill to be sponsored by Illinois Rep Lou Lang, a long-time advocate of expanded gambling and considered an expert on the subject.

“Sports wagering will increase foot traffic to the casinos and tracks translating into other gaming revenues,” he said. “I believe the most expedient way to implement sports wagering is to allow the existing casinos and tracks to offer full sports wagering at a traditional sportsbook facility.

"Mobile at stadiums addresses the concern that spectators would not come to view games if they cannot otherwise wager. This protects the core product of fans in seats, while understanding that many of those fans also wager."

Image: Daniel Schwen