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Sports Betting Debate Gains Momentum in Illinois

Adding sports betting to the mix of gambling expansion opportunities makes sense, says Illinois legislator

Gambling expansion is once again on the discussion table in Illinois as the second of two hearings on the matter is set to take place later this week. This time, state lawmakers are set to discuss the potential legalization of sports betting, online gambling, and daily fantasy sports.

Sports betting has been creating the biggest buzz within the US gambling industry this year, following the May 14 ruling of the US Supreme Court that effectively lifted a long-standing federal ban on the provision of wagering services and left it to individual states to decide whether they want to legalize the activity or to stray from the sports betting bandwagon.

Efforts for the potential expansion of Illinois’ gambling industry have emerged on several occasions in recent years but without much success as bills on the matter have never survived committee consideration.

It was not any different this year, except for the fact that a gambling expansion bill (SB 7) presented earlier in 2018 by Rep. Bob Rita has turned into the basis for the ongoing discussions. A previous hearing was held in August when state lawmakers sought input from stakeholders during a four-hour event in Chicago.

That hearing considered the potential construction of more casinos around the state as well as the addition of slot machines and similar gaming devices at the state’s struggling horse racing tracks, among other things.

The upcoming hearing, scheduled to take place on Wednesday in the state’s capital Springfield, will be primarily concerned with sports betting, online gambling, and daily fantasy sports.

Sports Betting Makes Sense

According to State Rep. Mike Zalewski, who recently spoke with local news outlet the Herald & Review, the addition of sports betting in the gambling expansion mix only makes sense. Rep. Zalewski currently chairs the House Revenue Committee. The lawmaker has further pointed out that wagering could be “the tie than binds the different industries” and the “bricks and mortar” that would form a “unifying approach going forward”.

A recent report on gambling in the state compiled by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability dwelt briefly on the potential legalization of sports betting in the state. The report reads that “it is difficult to predict the revenue potential” of the gaming services discussed by the Legislature as the final product and its taxation are not determined. However, “each of [the] formats would create a new revenue source for the state.”

Additional revenue is certainly something Illinois needs as it once again struggled to create a spending plan for the next financial year and close a deficit of more than $1 billion.

New Jersey reported last week that it has recorded sports betting revenue of nearly $24 million in September and has handled around $184 million in wagers. According to Rep. Zalewski, $184 million in betting handle “in a state like New Jersey” presents real opportunity for Illinois. The lawmaker added that if mobile betting is added to the mix, “then you would talk about a real opportunity to have revenue affect the state.” Of the $184 million wagered in New Jersey last month, a total of $104 million was bet online or via mobile devices.

The Illinois sports betting hearing is scheduled for noon local time on Wednesday in the capital Springfield. While the hearing is an important step, a sports betting legislation will not be presented and potentially voted on before January 2019 when the new legislative session of the state Legislature is set to commence.

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