llinois lawmakers are considering a measure that would lift the ban on gambling on in-state colleges and universities, among other changes to the state's gambling laws.
Illinois House Executive Committee on Wednesday discussed measures that would legalize and regulate igaming and ban “sweepstakes” machines that mirror video gambling but are otherwise not regulated by the state the same way slot machines are. The committee’s discussion was subject matter only, meaning no votes were taken on any of the provisions.
Rep. Mike Zalewski, one of the lead architects of the gambling expansion bill in 2019 which legalized sports betting, said the prohibition on betting on Illinois collegiate sports teams was put into the law “at the behest of the universities,” Capitol News Illinois reports. But as sports betting becomes widespread in neighboring states, it would be easy for an Illinois gambler to travel to place a bet on an Illinois team, Zalewski said.
He said the prohibition “reduces our marketplace and makes us less of a robust marketplace than we otherwise would be.”
University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman addressed the committee as well, noting his opposition to the bill. He said crossing the border to gamble is “easier said than done,” and Rep. Tim Butler agreed.
Whitman said it was a “major concern” that U of I athletes may be in direct contact with someone who is betting on them. “They're living amongst the people who are betting on them, which is strange to know that somebody who lives in the dorm room right next door might be betting on them, somebody who was involved with one of our teams as a manager, video person, might be betting on them,” he said.
Zalewski said his amendment to House Bill 849 allows universities to petition the Illinois Gaming Board to suspend wagering on in-state universities or colleges for a period of up to six months if “the college or university has a reasonable belief that a player of that team has been influenced, has suffered mental or physical injury, or has otherwise been affected by a wager.”
Whitman said that he appreciated the amendment, but it would be insufficient in remedying such an incident.
Trevor Hayes, head of government relations at William Hill, said Illinoisans today can bet on Illinois college teams from within the state, but that action would have to be taken on illegal, unregulated, untaxed websites. “The reality is there are apps in these kids’ hands today from overseas companies that are illegal,” he said. “No one has to drive half an hour to make a bet on any Illinois college team.”
In terms of gambling apps, Rep. Daniel Didech, D-Buffalo Grove, agreed that they are prevalent. That’s why he said it is time to have a broader conversation about legalizing and regulating them. He said better regulation would make the practice safer and would only be detrimental to the illegal gambling market.
Operators of video gambling terminals opposed the measure. Dan Clausner, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, said internet gambling would discourage Illinoisans from going to local slot machine parlors or restaurants that have video gaming terminals. Clausner also advocated that the law should make clear that sweepstakes machines are illegal.
Dave McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, lobbied the committee for changes to the law to benefit the horseracing industry. He praised House Bill 3214, sponsored by committee chair Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, which would require the tracks and their partners to dedicate some revenues to horse racing purses and services for the backstretch workers.