Eyes on Illinois for 2018 Online Gaming
Less than two weeks ago, it became clear that Illinois was not going to proceed with any effort to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2017. The time for serious consideration and debate passed. While Illinois did go further with online poker and casino game legislation than most anticipated, there simply wasn’t enough time or support this year to make it happen.
However, the forward movement in 2017 and indicators from a supportive legislator point to a strong effort to push online gambling next year as a part of a larger gaming expansion bill.
Putting 2017 Efforts on Ice
In truth, Illinois made more progress than many other states that introduced online poker and/or casino game legislation in 2017. The primary Senate bill (S.208) to legalize and regulate internet gaming and daily fantasy sports passed the full Senate by a 42-10 vote in May. Its House partner (H.479) did not find the same success, though. It stalled in the House Executive Committee in June when hearings were scheduled and cancelled.
The bill did reemerge during the October veto session, but it never made it from the agenda to an actual discussion during those few available days. And with the House’s decision, the bill was tabled for the year. The good news, however, is that H.479 still lives and will be available for discussion when the next legislative session begins in January.
Not surprising (online poker is in here too), but this doesn't mean the effort in Illinois is dead. https://t.co/VFfTkFuQPy
— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) November 10, 2017
Possibilities in 2018
As it stands, the Illinois House begins a perfunctory session on January 16, at which time attendance is optional for mot legislators but committees can meet and discuss bills. All members officially return to work on January 23. Anything can happen between now and then, with lobbyists and interested parties sure to schedule meetings and initiate correspondence.
One of the sponsors of H.479, Illinois Rep. Michael Zalewski, spoke to Dustin Gouker of Online Poker Report recently about the chances for another effort in 2018. In essence, Zalewski noted the difficulties of passing any kind of gaming legislation because of the number of stakeholders with interests to consider.
Zalewski did express confidence that “sooner rather than later, we’ll get to a comprehensive package that people can support.” The need for such a bill emerged from input he received from the horse racing industry wanting another option for revenue, from the video gaming industry, and from brick-and-mortar casinos that want to expand into the online poker and casino game realm.
Regarding a timeline, Zalewski mentioned that there are some “big ticket items” to handle in January, and then lading up to the Democratic primary in Illinois will consume energy through February and the first half of March. Therefore, he expressed hope that a broad gaming expansion bill could begin moving in the spring of 2018.
— Stephen Brogan (@SteveBrogan) November 12, 2017
Reasons for Optimism
The main reason that online gaming proponents can be optimistic is the positive momentum that the bill garnered in the Illinois Senate in 2017 and the intention of legislators like Zalewski to pursue a bill on the House side in 2018. He has clearly been paying attention to the issues and special interests involved to know what obstacles he faces but also where he can find compromise.
In addition, the passing of similar legislation in Pennsylvania inspires more desire to see it done in Illinois as well. Despite major disagreements on some parts of the gambling expansion bill in Pennsylvania, legislators were ultimately able to find common ground and pass the legislation. And considering Illinois is intent on pursuing a variety of gambling expansions and improvements, those lawmakers can view Pennsylvania’s bill as a model and build on or around that example. In addition, Illinois will see Pennsylvania’s online gambling regulations established in the coming months and millions of dollars in licensing fees collected from operators.
Other states like New York and Michigan will also be considering online poker and/or casino game legislation in early 2018, which may add pressure to join the legion of states prepared to take the industry into their own hands, create jobs and revenue, and compete with other states for Americans’ gambling dollars. States like New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware – and eventually Pennsylvania – will begin combining online poker liquidity in 2018, showing the potential for that industry.
Illinois is not a certainty by any means, but it looks more like a state to watch for online gaming possibilities in 2018.
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