Lawmakers in Illinois Send Sports Betting Bill to Governor’s Desk

After taking their sports betting debate into overtime, the Illinois General Assembly finally approved a massive gambling expansion package last Sunday.

Deliberating on the final day of what was already an extended emergency session, lawmakers in the Prairie State put together a series of gambling amendments attached to the previously unrelated Senate Bill 690.

Those amendments include the creation of a “super casino” resort in Chicago, which will become the first casino constructed within the Windy City’s limits. Other gambling expansion measures include allowances for up to six other casinos in Chicago’s suburbs, and permitting horseracing tracks to install video gaming terminals (VGTs).

But the real draw for SB-690 was sports betting regulation, as the bill makes Illinois the 13th state to officially legalize sportsbooks over the last year.

Illinois Joins Lengthy List of Sports Betting States

Since May 14th of 2018 – when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports wagering outside of Nevada – seven states have legalized and launched sportsbooks: Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Sports betting laws have also been approved in Arkansas, Montana, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, and Washington D.C., but these jurisdictions haven’t implemented them as of yet.

Due to the extended session, Illinois state law required SB-690 to attain a three-fifths supermajority to pass. The state House of Representatives signed off via an 87 to 27 vote, followed by a 46 to 10 vote in the state Senate.

The bill now heads to the desk of Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who has already signaled his intent to sign sports betting into law.

State representative Mike Zalewski (D-23) – who previously sponsored similar sports betting legislation before throwing his support behind SB-690 – issued a statement celebrating Illinois’ entrance to America’s ongoing sports betting gold rush:

“Today is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work, determination and teamwork behind a vision for entertainment and economic opportunity in Illinois.”

Richard Schwartz – who serves as president of Rush Street Interactive, the operator of Rivers Casino in the city of Des Plaines – praised Pritzker directly for shepherding sports betting to the finish line:

“Thanks to Governor Pritzker’s leadership, and the weekend overtime hours put in by the General Assembly, we are excited by the legalization of sports betting.”

Back in February, Pritzker spent a portion of his budget address urging lawmakers to prioritize sports betting – an industry which he is counting on to generate over $200 million in annual revenue for the state in its first year of operation:

“Every day we argue about ‘who’s in and who’s out’ is money that goes to other states and to the black market.

I am calling on the legislature to take this up immediately so that Illinois can realize hundreds of millions of dollars, create new jobs, and bring sports betting into a regulated environment that will protect citizens from bad actors.

If we do it this year and become the first state in the Midwest to move on this initiative, we can realize more than $200 million from sports betting fees and taxes in FY 2020.”

DraftKings and FanDuel Forced to Sit in “Penalty Box”

When Pritzker signs SB-690 into law, casinos, horseracing tracks, and sports stadiums will all be permitted to run retail sportsbooks onsite. Bettors will also be able to visit over 2,500 venues that sell Illinois Lottery tickets to access self-service betting kiosks.

Operators who obtain the requisite licenses can also offer online/mobile wagering apps, but bettors will be required to register their accounts through an affiliated land-based location beforehand.

The bill’s major point of contention is the so-called “penalty box,” or an 18-month period in which online-only operators aren’t allowed to use their branding. The penalty box concept was conceived by billionaire casino magnate Neil Bluhm, owner of Rivers Casino parent company Rush Street Gaming and its subsidiaries Rush Street Interactive and PlaySugarHouse.com.

Bluhm ostensibly sought to hamstring online-only competitors like DraftKings and FanDuel as the two daily fantasy sports (DFS) titans have come to dominate New Jersey’s sports betting industry. The 18-month exclusion period – originally envisioned as an outright ban to punish DFS companies which operated in Illinois despite lack of legal clarity – was negotiated downward from three years during the emergency session.

Jason Robins, chief executive officer of DraftKings, took to Twitter on Sunday to vent about the penalty box making SB-690’s final cut:

“While it is good to see sports betting bills passed, excluding DraftKings and FanDuel is like passing a ride-sharing bill that excludes Uber and Lyft.

Very disappointing that Illinois customers will not have the best options available to them for 18 months.”

 

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