Illinois Senate President John Cullerton Backs Online Gambling
John Cullerton, the president of the Illinois State Senate, announced his support for legalized online gambling in his state. The senator said he expects “stiff opposition” to his proposal, but the state could expect a 9-figure windfall in additional revenues if pro-gambling legislation was passed.
The Poker Players Alliance has estimated Illinois would make nearly $200 million a year if it licensed, regulated, and taxed online poker sites. Over the past two years, three other U.S. states have legalized online casinos and card rooms, and these states are already receiving additional revenue from the gaming activity.
Protecting Illinois Brick-and-Mortar Casinos
Cullerton says the need to protect Illinois’s land-based casinos is going to be a complicating factor in any legalization process. Several factors are leading to Illinois lawmakers trying to find new ways to collect funds. With the state’s tax base increasingly impatient with new taxes, Cullerton believes the state’s leaders need to discuss all possibilities–including tapping the online gambling market.
$3 Billion Budget Deficit Looms
The state is facing a major deficit crunch in the next year, one which is estimated to be in near $3 billion. The state has instituted a temporary income tax increase to make up the difference, but that increase is set to expire, which accounts for $1.6 billion of the expected 3 billion dollar deficit.
This is not a new issue in the state, but the budget issues have caused several longtime proponents to renew efforts to pass pro-gambling laws. The Chicago Democrat has supported online gambling for 2 years now, since the Department of Justice said it would not police online poker and casino websites. Cullerton also traces his support to the U.S. Justice Department’s chance of stance in 2011. Cullerton said, “I’ve been supportive of this ever since we found out from the Justice Department we could do this.”
Sees It Regulation of Existing Online Gambling
When asked to address moral complaints on the ethics of approving online gaming with state laws, Cullerton added, “The point is people are already gambling, and we’re not making any of the money. There are other states that are just getting started that are bringing in some money. So that may play a role in it when we try to pass a budget.”
In the mind of gambling proponents, regulating online gambling in the state is not an expansion of gaming. Instead, it’s an attempt to place such activities under the watchful eye of the regulators, who might then collect taxes on it. John Pappas, Executive Director of the PPA, says, “Regulation simply would mean corralling the current unregulated marketplace.”
Problem Gambling a Concern for Bedell
Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Gambling says any push towards more online gambling is bad. The idea behind refusing to license online gambling operations is to make the activities illegal, and therefore unsavory to some gamblers. Because states have never prosecuted gamblers for their Internet gaming activities, many players continue to play at unregulated sites. Some potential gamblers are driven away, so a lack of license from the state keeps certain amounts of problem gambling from taking place.
When asked about a potential new legislative bill, Bedell said, “Making gambling more accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will make it easier for people to gamble and lose their money. There are more than enough opportunities to gamble in Illinois.”
Land-Based Casinos Might Resist New Laws
Still, Cullerton believes the greatest opposition will not come from the problem gambling groups and others against gambling on moral grounds. He believes the state’s already-entrenched gambling interests could line up against the plan. If so, they might pour significant amounts of money into swaying public opinion, lobbying state lawmakers, and defeating any bill put before the legislature. Such efforts have met with success in other states, and can be certain to tap a certain segment of the population which is anti-gambling.
One factor in the favor of Cullerton and his allies is the framework state-backed online gambling has taken in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware, the other states which have approved online poker. In those states, not everyone can collect a license and start accepting licensed and regulated players. The pre-existing gambling establishments are given the right to secure a license for online gambling websites, so the established gaming operations stand to gain from the venture.
This has not always brought full support, though. While MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment embraced online gambling in Nevada, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson have yet to embrace the new potential revenue stream. In fact, Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, says he will spend whatever is necessary to defeat licensed online gambling at the state and federal level. Adelson cites moral objections due to problem gambling concerns, but most commenters on his activism suggest the land-based gambling conglomerate wants to protect its brick-and-mortar casinos from losing its customer base.
In these situations, many fear the brick-and-mortar players will simply stay at home to play, instead of fill up the large gaming floors of the land casinos. If so, investments might be ruined and thousands of jobs could be lost.
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