Eleventh Hour Vote In Senate Makes Illinois Online Gambling A Possibility

Steve Ruddock June 1, 2017 2626 Reads
Illinois late online gambling bill

The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would legalize and regulate online gambling and daily fantasy sports on Wednesday evening. H 479 easily passed the Senate, by a vote of 42-10.

In order to become law, the bill needs to pass the Illinois House of Representatives, as well as receive the governor’s signature.

The Illinois House didn’t consider the bill last night, but the effort is still alive. Source chatter indicates the bill will be considered when the House reconvenes later this month.

How we got to this point in Illinois

Online gambling and DFS were late amendments to an existing bill by Sen. Kwame Raoul, a longtime supporter of legalizing DFS and the man who replaced Barack Obama in the state Senate when the former president moved on to the US Senate.

Despite being a long-shot candidate to legalize iGaming at the start of the year, the late push in Illinois caught most people by surprise, as did the coupling of DFS and online gambling.

But upon closer inspection the picture begins to come into focus.

Why iGaming and DFS are together

By itself, DFS didn’t have enough support to pass the full legislature. Casinos, most notably Rush Street, have opposed DFS but supported online gambling.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, this push-pull dynamic was the basis for online gambling and DFS converging in Illinois:

“Including internet games was a move designed to bring on board casino operators, who view fantasy sports as competition but have long wanted to break into the online gambling space.”

The bottom line is this: It appears online gambling would have zero chance of passing in Illinois without DFS. Likewise, DFS likely won’t be able to pass unless the casino opposition disappears. And this can only be accomplished if the casino industry receives something in return — something like online gambling.

Together, online gambling and DFS are powerful allies. DFS has a strong lobby presence and an uncanny ability to activate its players at the grassroots level. Online gambling has support from most of the casino industry and would provide much-needed and immediate revenue to the state.

What happens next for Illinois online gambling?

Last night was a big step forward for Illinois and the quest for legal, regulated online gambling in the US. That being said, the bill’s future is less than certain.

As Chris Grove wrote in Thursday’s Grove Report newsletter:

“The state’s legislative session has now been artificially extended to allow pols a shot at coming up with a budget solution. It will be late June before the House returns to vote on anything. The consensus among stakeholders is that the House is very unlikely to call the bill for a vote. With that said, the bill is alive and positioned to move, which is certainly more than we could have said about Illinois a month ago.”

As Grove notes, despite its ease of passage  in the Senate, the House will be a far more difficult hurdle to clear, beginning with Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, who is seen as opposed to or at least ambivalent to online gambling legalization.

There are two potential scenarios for Illinois online gambling when the House reconvenes in June.

The chamber could tack it on to the state budget; Illinois hasn’t passed a complete budget since 2013.

Or it could pass as a standalone bill.

So after a flurry of late activity, we’re now in the familiar position of playing the waiting game.

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