Illinois Internet Gambling, Fantasy Sports Bill In Legislative Limbo

This article first appeared on: GamblingCompliance

A bill to legalize internet gambling and daily fantasy sports (DFS) in Illinois was recently approved in the Senate, but as of Wednesday remained in limbo in the House, where Democrats don’t plan to reconvene until later this month.

House Bill 479 became an effort to legalize DFS, but the Chicago Tribune reported that online gambling was added to get the state’s casino operators to support the bill.

Although the earliest the bill could heard is not till the end of the month, some lawmakers have begun to distance themselves from the gambling legislation.

Of the four House members, who sponsored the original fantasy sports bill, only Democratic Representative Mark Zalewski’s name remains attached to HB 479.

In a statement, Republican Representative Joe Sosnowski said he removed his name from the bill after Zalewski’s “amendments completely changed the original intent of HB 479.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Republican Representative Margo McDermed confirmed that she removed her name from the bill.

“[She] hasn’t had a chance to dig deep into the bill. Right now she’s not sure of her position on internet gambling until she’s had a chance to really analyze it,” the spokeswoman told GamblingCompliance.

The original version of HB 479 was to provide the official date of Illinois statehood on the state seal.

Back in May, Democratic Senator Kwame Raoul surprised some in Springfield when he added additional language that would create a division within the Illinois Gaming Board to license and regulate online gaming.

Senator Raoul was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. The Senate voted 42-10 to approve the bill shortly before the General Assembly adjourned on May 31.

So far, Illinois and Pennsylvania are the two states closest to joining Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey among the states regulating online poker and casinos.

The legislation must pass the House by a three-fifths margin.

Zalewski said his next step was to ensure his colleagues understood that DFS and online gambling could be regulated in Illinois.

“This is brand new territory for some of my colleagues,” Zalewski said. “I want to educate, exchange information and make sure people are comfortable with this kind of legislation.”

Zalewski said opposition to his bill came from two sources; lawmakers with strong moral opposition to gambling and others who argue the market is already too saturated.

Currently, the Illinois Gaming Board regulates 10 land based casinos, and close to 6,000 bars and taverns across the state with nearly 26,000 video gaming terminals (VGTs); the equivalent to 22 casinos.

“I’ve been grappling with this issue for a while. It’s about finding the right recipe when you involve daily fantasy sports and internet gambling,” Zalewski said.

Chris Aronovitz, an attorney with the Casino Law Group, said this bill may be tough to pass until after the race for Illinois governor is over.

But the 2018 Illinois general election to keep or unseat incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner is still 17 months away.

Rauner, a wealthy investor, has deposited $50m, into his re-election fund, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Among the declared Democratic contenders is billionaire J.B. Pritzker.

Should a Democratic candidate pose a serious threat to win the election then gaming legislation might start to gain traction, Aronovitz said.

“Gambling legislation that brings in revenue to the state might not be on the table until spring of 2019,” Aronovitz said.

Zalewski agreed, saying, the lack of a budget begins to weigh heavily on him and his fellow legislators and asking them to drop budget talks in favor of his bill doesn’t seem right.

Ryan Keith, a public relations specialist with RK PR Solutions, said there is some faction of politicians on both sides of the isle that feel passing a budget should be the main concern in Illinois right now.

“There is an opportunity for the creation of jobs and economic development [with this bill] but the small amount of revenue that would be generated by internet gambling is a side benefit,” Keith said.

Internet gambling bills have risen and fallen inside the Illinois House and Senate over the past few years. Still, that has not stopped Zalewski from trying to educate others on the financial benefits of legalized gambling.

“I don’t want to rush this. I want to take the time to find the right policy balance,” he said.


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