Illinois Online Gambling Bill Awaits Possible Fall Consideration

Updated: August 15th, 2017 by Haley Hintze

 

The wheels of online gambling expansion continue to turn very slowly in the US, with Illinois now among the states most likely to authorize and regulate online poker and other games in the foreseeable future. How soon, one might ask? A measure proposing such regulation has ping-ponged between the two houses of Illinois’ state legislature since its introduction in January.

However, with the near-bankrupt state still searching for additional revenue sources, and this, the primary measure seeking to regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS), online poker and casino-style games still alive in the state’s House, this fall’s legislative session represents perhaps the best chance to date for a regulatory bill to pass the legislature.

The bill in question, House Bill No. 479 (HB 479), passed the Illinois State Senate on a 42-10 vote on the last day of May, raising hopes of a quick passage in the state’s House; HB 479 returned there for approval due to amendments being added to the bill during its four-month trip through the Senate.

Still, the revised HB 479 never escaped from its mandatory assignment to two separate committees (Rules and Executive) before the House itself adjourned for most of the summer at the end of June. Yet the bill persists, and unlike the DFS-only, rival Senate Bill 1531, HB 479 offers more meat for most of the interested stakeholders.

As reported back in June, HB 479’s inclusive nature – it extends new gambling opportunities to all of Illinois’ currently licensed gambling operators – gave it a higher chance of success than the competng DFS-onlly measure. Two other factors, though, figure into this legislative equation. First, there’s the ongoing budget war between the Democrat-controlled legislature and Illinois’ GOP governor, Bruce Rauner. Despite reports that some budget measures have been passed and approved, the reality is rather more strained: The legislature’s Dem leaders have approved partial budgets, but the education budget, the most contentious, remains a battleground. The state’s Senate just this week overrode a Rauner veto, and that matter now sits in the House, where its fate is uncertain. And as for the funding, well, that’s where gambling-legalization matters enter the frey, even if only in a contributory way.

Rauner, though, might not have a say much longer. The narrowly-elected Republican has seen his approval ratings slide, and he faces a very serious reelection challenge from Democrat JB Pritzker. Illinois is a predominantly Democratic state, and a Pritzker victory would likely ease the way for HB 479. Rauner might veto HB 479 even if that bill was passed, and its very unlikely that the legislature could override a Rauner veto.

That’s why prognosticators on the matter have been pointing to November, or even more likely, 2018, as a realistic target for approving online poker: a Rauner defeat simply makes that possibility more likely.

Will HB 479 be approved quickly, even if Rauner becomes a single-term governor? Not so fast. There are still points of contention between HB 479 and rival bills. First, as in other states, DFS legalization continues to grab the headlines. Second, the legislature is considering other possibilities for a generalized gambling expansion. Those possibilities include:

  • The openng of up to six new casinos, including the most politically explosive, a venue in downtown Chicago;
  • Slot-machine gaming (via video gaming terminals, or VGTs), at major Illinois airports such as O’Hare and Midway;
  • An additional 400 gaming positions for all already-existing casinos in the state;
  • Approval for the state’s pari-mutuel facilities – Illinois is a big horse- and greyhound-racing state – to also offer video slots.

All that stuff is out there, and at some point, at least some of it will be approved. A lot of the when depends on Rauner’s future, as well as how palatable a generalized gambling expansion becomes to Illinois’ general public in the face of the ongong budget shortfalls.

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