CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker's call for lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing sports betting without getting bogged down in the squabbles that have doomed previous gambling expansion efforts always looked like a long shot, and lawmakers' first public discussion of the issue during the spring legislative session showed why.
An Illinois House subcommittee spent hours Thursday morning hearing testimony on four options for legal sports wagering that were proposed last week, plus a surprise fifth option that was filed Tuesday. While the plans all would allow residents and visitors to bet on sporting events, the proposals vary widely in where they would be able to place those wagers and how much tax revenue the state would generate.
By the end of the hearing, one thing was clear: Casinos, horse tracks, racehorse owners, professional sports leagues, the company that runs Illinois' lottery terminals and businesses involved in the growing video gambling industry all want their cut -- and several of them want to block potential competition.
Satisfying those competing interests while creating a plan that generates the $200 million in new state revenue Pritzker is counting on for the budget year that begins July 1 will be no easy task. The discussion Thursday offered no clear indication of where negotiations are headed.
But state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat and the caucus's point man on sports betting, said hearing from all the interested parties was an important step.
"If you decide at the outset that you're just going to power something through, you never really have success," Zalewski said.
Lawmakers plan to spend the next week or two tweaking their proposals, he said, and he hopes to have another hearing in mid-April.
Lawmakers have a host of questions to answer before putting together a final package. Should people be able to place bets on laptops and smartphones? Should sports betting be limited to existing casinos and horse tracks, or should gamblers be able to make wagers at restaurants and bars that have video gambling machines or anywhere lottery tickets are sold? Should Illinois allow league-sanctioned sportsbooks in or around stadiums? Whatever the answers, it's likely some segment of the gambling industry will be left wanting.
Speaking on behalf of the NBA, MLB and the PGA Tour, Dan Spillane, NBA executive vice president and general counsel, backed a proposal from Rep. Andre Thapedi, a Chicago Democrat. Under that plan, 25 cents of every $100 wagered at sportsbooks would be divided among sports governing bodies.
"It reflects the underlying fact that sports leagues provide the foundation for sports betting while bearing the risks that sports betting imposes, even when regulated," Spillane said.
But Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said no state with legal sports betting gives the leagues a cut. Paying the leagues would result in worse odds for bettors and less tax revenue for the state, Swoik said.
Some casino owners are backing a proposal filed Tuesday by Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat who's been working for years on gambling expansion bills. While Rita's plan is similar to other proposals that would allow casinos and horse tracks to get sports betting licenses, it includes a provision that would bar operators who have participated in illegal sports gambling.
Paul Gaynor, an attorney for Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, said the provision is targeted at daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel, which operate sportsbooks in New Jersey. Gaynor cited a 2015 advisory opinion from then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that said the daily fantasy contests constituted illegal gambling.
The sites continued to operate in Illinois and made unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation that would have explicitly legalized their contests.
But representatives of the sites, who didn't testify at Thursday's hearing, said they've been operating legally in the state and should be allowed to participate in sports betting.
"We have been operating openly and honestly in Illinois since we began offering fantasy contests," said Cory Fox, FanDuel's counsel for policy and government affairs.
James Chisholm, a spokesman for DraftKings, called Rita's proposal "a blatant attempt to restrict competition and specifically box out potential operators they know will be major draws for consumers seeking out the best possible legal mobile sports betting experience."
Rita, who is leading separate negotiations on a traditional gambling expansion bill, said his proposal was an attempt to work with casinos and horse tracks to provide consumer protection and rein in illegal betting.
Like Zalewski, he believes lawmakers will be able to get a sports betting bill to Pritzker's desk this spring without tying it to other gambling issues, like additional casino licenses or allowing slot machines at horse tracks.
But, he acknowledged, "It's a very delicate issue."