Illinois Online Gambling on the Table Again

Illinois Online Gambling on the Table Again
All eyes on Illinois this week

Online poker and gambling became real legislative possibilities for Illinois in 2017. The Senate even passed a bill to legalize and regulate those internet games one year ago, but the companion bill on the House side never garnered enough support to even pass a committee.

There has been no word from Illinois in the first several months of 2018, despite a bill remaining open for consideration by the House Rules Committee from last year. But it seems that there was no movement on that bill because legislators were working on an omnibus gambling bill. That bill has now surfaced and includes online poker and casino games, fantasy sports, and sports betting.

The problem with SB.7 for Illinois? The bill was only revived on May 18 and is now scheduled for a hearing on May 29, but the entire Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the summer on May 31. That timeline is tight for even the most popular of bills, and SB.7 certainly has its detractors.

It also appears that a House committee that met on Monday (Memorial Day) was not able to secure the votes to pass the bill. The web page for the bill, however, still shows a committee hearing on the schedule for later this week.

2017 Bill vs. 2018 Bill

The Senate bill, SB.208, aimed to legalize and regulate online poker and casino games in the state of Illinois, and it passed by a full floor vote of 42-10 in May 2017. It’s companion bill on the other side of the legislature, HB.479, stalled in the House Executive Committee in June, as hearings were scheduled and then cancelled. The bill was brought up briefly in October during a veto session but failed to make the final agenda to be debated or considered again.

When the final 2017 session came to an end, HB.479 sponsor State Representative Michael Zalewski discussed a comprehensive gaming bill for the spring of 2018. He noted that stakeholders in the overall Illinois gaming industry, such as racetracks, wanted a way to increase revenue if land-based casinos were going to have online poker and casino games.

Zalewski and others remained quiet during the first months of 2018, but they were working behind the scenes with Senate colleagues to draft an omnibus bill. And SB.7 came to life just days after the United States Supreme Court overturned PASPA and authorized states to legalize sports betting as they saw fit. Uncoincidentally, SB.7’s latest amendment includes sports betting, along with daily fantasy sports (DFS) and online gambling.

Interestingly, Zalewski is not an official sponsor of SB.7. The Senate sponsors are listed as Senators Terry Link, Dave Syverson, Mattie Hunter, and Donne Trotter (one Republican and three Democrats). The House sponsors are Representatives Robert Rita, Rita Mayfield, Chad Hays, and Litesa Wallace (one Republican and three Democrats).

Ticking Legislative Clock

The entire Illinois legislature is set to end its current session and leave for the summer break on Thursday, May 31. And SB.7 is scheduled for a hearing in the Executive Committee on Tuesday, May 29, just two days prior.

In addition to the obvious time crunch, the bill is also lacking details. According to Online Poker Report, as well as a reading of the information currently available about SB.7, there is no actual language in the current legislation to authorize online poker, casino games, DFS, or sports betting, only a placeholder for that language to be added. Articles within the amendment stake claims for the “Fantasy Sports Contest Act,” “Internet Gaming Act,” and “Sports Wagering Act.”

OPR notes that a Monday hearing in the House Gaming Subcommittee will consider an amendment from Representative Rita for the purpose of clarifying that language. And if the bill does not make enough progress this week, it could be revisited in a special June session or later in the year.

Reasons for Hope

The Illinois Senate passed online gambling last year and seems likely to do it again. The House is the body with the most special interests, but the comprehensive bill may handle all of those interests in one bundle of proposals.

Illinois has a plethora of gambling available in the state, but the ability to connect the many land-based casinos and racinos to internet players and boost their revenue is smart for all involved. The state, especially, will benefit from the licensing and tax revenue.

The bipartisan nature of the House and Senate sponsors is more likely to generate cooperation from both sides of the political aisle. As long as lawmakers have the time to read and examine all parts of the bill in time for the votes, it has a solid chance of passage.

The main problem is the timing and the broad nature of the bill. There are numerous articles and amendments, all of which may be debated and discussed before a vote is taken. If the big hearing doesn’t happen until two days before the close of the session, it leaves very little time to make any additional changes and pass the bill in both legislative houses before the end of the day on Thursday.

However, there is the possibility of a special session in June, should the sponsors feel that they have the necessary support. It can also be revisited in the fall months.

 

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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