Illinois expected to accelerate work to legalize sports betting

Efforts to legalize sports betting in Illinois will accelerate as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision announced Monday lifting a federal ban, but it could be months before lawmakers take a vote, the state senator who heads the chamber’s gaming committee said.

By a 6-3 margin, Supreme Court justices struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in the case originally known as Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Filed by then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the lawsuit challenged the 1992 federal law that prevented states other than Nevada from authorizing single-game wagering on professional and college games. At least a dozen states supported New Jersey, while all four major professional sports leagues, the NCAA and federal government wanted the law to stand.

With the ruling, Illinois and other states can enact laws authorizing sports wagering. Illinois lawmakers began filing bills early this year in anticipation of justices siding with New Jersey.

Democratic state Sen. Steve Stadelman of Loves Park, chairman of the gaming committee, said he expects the pace of the panel’s work to quicken. Sports gambling consultants and representatives from the professional sports leagues, along with assorted opponents and supporters, testified at a preliminary hearing on the issue last month.

Stadelman said it’s unlikely legislation will be up for a vote before the General Assembly adjourns May 31. Issues to be addressed include tax rates, online wagering and potential venues such as casinos and horse racing tracks.

“I think that this will be something that will be discussed and negotiated in the months ahead,” Stadelman said Monday. “And probably, more realistically, we’re looking at this fall or maybe early next year when we see something concrete.”

Stadelman and Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said lawmakers can’t be hasty in putting together a final sports gambling bill to keep pace with other states. Lang said he conducted four days of research — at his personal expense — on a trip to Las Vegas by meeting with sports books, the Nevada Gaming Control Board and others.

“I learned quite a bit,” said Lang. “I learned that some states were so much in a hurry to pass a law on this that they screwed it up. We’re not going to screw it up. We’re going to do it right. And I’m not going to put a (House) bill together and get it out there for people to look at until I’m comfortable that it’s the right bill.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Americans typically place $150 billion in illegal bets on U.S. sports annually, according to the American Gaming Association. Roughly $58 billion was wagered on NFL and college pigskin action last year, just $2 billion of it legally, according to the group.

The gambling association hailed the Supreme Court decision Monday as “a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner.”

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, owned by Rush Street Gaming, wants a part of the sports betting action if enabled in Illinois. Richard Schwartz, president of sister company Rush Street Interactive, said the Chicago-based business has been running state-regulated virtual reality sports betting in New Jersey and could easily shift to real games at properties such as Rivers Casino and online.

“With the black-market (sports betting) operators, there’s no recourse for consumers if operators decide to do whatever they wish to do,” Schwartz said. “Whereas if it’s regulated, obviously consumers are protected. And so we think that the state should be taxing and regulating the industry to generate revenues, protect consumers and provide opportunity for stakeholders to grow really transparent and high-integrity businesses.”

Sara Robbins, spokeswoman for Eldorado Resorts, which is buying Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, said officials were unavailable for comment.

However, unions representing players in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and the National Football League issued a joint statement saying it’s time to decide not only who should profit from legal sports betting, but also the potential costs.

“Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses,” the players said. “The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games is protected.”

Arlington International Racecourse General Manager Tony Petrillo could not be reached for comment Monday, but in March he told the Daily Herald the track would want a casino along with sports betting.

“If we are treated equally with the casinos and we have slots and table games, and then we have sports betting, that’s a venture that would be very plausible for this property,” he said.

At last month’s state Senate gaming committee hearing in Chicago, the Springfield-based Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems reiterated its opposition to legal sports betting. Its executive director, Anita Bedell, could not be reached Monday.

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