Gambling expansion, sports betting on collision course as end of Illinois' legislative session nears
The smart money says that if Illinois lawmakers are going to legalize sports betting this spring, it’s going to be part of a larger gambling expansion deal that also includes new casino licenses and expanded betting options at horse tracks.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker did not want to squander the opportunity to bring in new state revenue through legalized sports betting, made possible by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, by tying the issue to the parochial gambling debates that have failed to produce an agreement for the better part of a decade. The governor is counting on more than $200 million in sports betting revenue in his spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.
But with their scheduled May 31 adjournment approaching, lawmakers are faced with the reality that winning broad support for a sports betting bill likely will require resolving issues they’ve been kicking around since then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2013 vetoed the last gambling expansion bill passed by the General Assembly. Because Pritzker has placed such a high priority on sports betting, all sides see it as leverage to achieve their long-sought goals.
While everyone wants a piece of sports betting, the other issues are little changed. Chicago, Waukegan, Rockford, the south suburbs, and communities in central and southern Illinois want new casinos. Horse tracks want to have slot machines and table games to support their operations and offer larger purses for race winners. Meanwhile, the state’s 10 existing casinos, stinging from the loss of bettors and revenue to legalized video gambling at bars and restaurants, don’t want to contend with more competition.
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