Illinois Legislature

Illinois General Assembly 

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Democrats are laying out four potential paths for legalizing sports betting in the state, with options ranging from creating a limited number of licenses for existing casinos and horse tracks to allowing gamblers to place bets wherever lottery tickets are sold.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on legalizing sports betting, and he wants lawmakers to get it done before the legislative session wraps up at the end of May. In his spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, Pritzker is counting on $200 million in upfront revenue from selling 20 sports betting licenses. But he hasn't specified who he thinks should be eligible.

The four proposals lawmakers plan to introduce Thursday show there is still a long way to go before coming up with a plan that can pass both chambers of the legislature.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat who chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee, said the ideas offer a starting point for negotiations.

"We want people reacting to this language as opposed to reacting to ... a stated policy goal," Zalewski said.

Three of the four plans follow some of the guidelines set by Pritzker, creating a limited number of sports betting licenses that would be sold for $10 million apiece. But the plans vary on who would be eligible for a license and what the state's cut would be. The fourth plan would put sports betting under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of the Lottery, potentially creating thousands of betting sites across the state.

The most restrictive plan, sponsored by Zalweski and modeled on New Jersey's law, would create 13 sports betting licenses, one for each of the 10 casinos and three horse tracks currently operating in the state. The plan also would create licenses for online betting platforms. The state's cut from in-person betting would be 15 percent of adjusted gross receipts -- how much operators take in from bettors minus what they pay in winnings. The state's cut for online wagers would be 20 percent.

A similar plan, sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart of Edwardsville and modeled on Mississippi's law, would also allow bets on sporting events to be placed at off-track betting parlors. It would create 10 licenses for online betting, which would be tethered to bricks-and-mortar operators.

Under Stuart's plan, the state's cut would be 15 percent for in-person and online betting. Some revenue would go to the Illinois Gaming Board to administer the program, and the rest would be equally divided among the state's construction, pension stabilization and school funds.

A plan sponsored by Rep. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero would put the Lottery Department in charge of overseeing sports betting. The department would determine what types of wagering would be available and how much revenue retailers would get to keep, and the agency would choose one provider to operate a statewide betting system. The state would keep half of the wagering revenue. There would be no online component.

Under the final plan, sponsored by Rep. Andre Thapedi of Chicago and backed by professional sports leagues, sportsbooks would pay 0.25 percent of all money wagered to the Illinois Gaming Board, which would divide that money among sports governing bodies in exchange for providing official data to gambling operators. The state's cut would be 12.5 percent of adjusted gross receipts. The plan would create 13 licenses for the existing casinos and horse tracks, and an unlimited number of online sports betting licenses.

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None of the proposals would make it possible for customers to place bets on sporting events at the nearly 7,000 restaurants, bars and other establishments across the state that have licensed video gambling terminals, although terminal operators could apply to run online platforms. That's likely to generate pushback from an industry that generated more revenue in Illinois last year than casinos.

Also looming in the background are perennial issues -- such as creating new casino licenses and allowing slot machines at horse tracks -- that have derailed negotiations over gambling expansion for the past decade. Pritzker has said he wants sports betting to be dealt with separately from other gambling issues.

Casinos, horse tracks and video gambling operators are "all very interested in sports betting as an option, and they're all still very much interested in what they want separately," Zalewski said.

"Among lawmakers, we're very cognizant that it's hard to keep this issue separated," he said. "That being said, if you get bogged down on this topic because people insist on getting ... a hundred percent of what they want, then we won't get it done."

If lawmakers are able to get a bill to Pritzker's desk this spring, Illinois could be the first Midwestern state to legalize sports betting after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year overturned a prohibition on state-sanctioned wagering on sporting events.

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