There appears to be an ongoing conflict of interest boiling within the gambling industry in the state of Illinois. The big push right now comes from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker who continues to campaign for legalized sports betting.
With several states now benefitting from revenue generated by their legalized sports betting markets, Gov. Pritzker is eager not to waste any more time in legalizing sports betting in the state and capitalizing on this lucrative market. However, it isn’t going to be a straightforward process as there are a number of different stakeholders that need to be pleased.
Back in 2013, former Gov. Pat Quinn turned down a gambling expansion bill passed by the General Assembly. The same fate is not likely to happen now as Gov. Pritzker places a high priority on allowing sports betting within the state. This stance benefits the other parties involved in the gambling expansion debate as sports betting could become part of a much larger gambling expansion agreement, which includes new casinos and expanded betting options in the horse racing industry.
Legalized sports betting can generate more than $200 million in revenue for Illinois, providing a massive boost to the state’s yearly budget. However, with the adjournment of the state’s legislative session fast-approaching, it’s now clear that existing gambling expansion issues need to be resolved first if lawmakers want a sports betting bill to be passed before discussions end on May 31.
Conflicting Interests
Chicago along with other cities including Waukegan and Rockford, are seeking for a casino license. The south suburbs, as well as the central and southern communities in the state also want their own casino.
Derek Blaida, who has long been lobbying for a Chicago-owned casino, said the city will throw its support behind sports betting legalization provided a casino license for Chicago is included in a comprehensive amendment. Chicago has been clamoring for its very own casino for almost two decades now, but then Gov. Quinn rejected proposals that would have paved the way for the city to obtain a casino license.
A Chicago casino is being supported by a number of Democratic lawmakers, with State Rep. Luis Arroyo saying that locals are going elsewhere to gamble, spending their money in other states such as Indiana and Wisconsin. Chicago has suffered due to this as it lost out on significant revenue which it could have collected if it had its own casino.
Meanwhile, horse tracks in Illinois also want slot machines and table games to be added to their offerings. Former Illinois lawmaker Bob Molaro, who lobbies for Hawthorne Race Course located in Cicero, said the state’s horse racing industry needs expanded betting options in order to survive.
Molaro said horsemen are leaving in droves and taking their horses beyond state lines where they are offered a wider variety of gambling. This move is supported by Hillside Democrat State Rep. Chris Welch who said the horse racing industry in Illinois needs to get better.
However, this line of argument contradicts with that of the existing casinos in the state. There are currently 10 casinos operating in Illinois and they are likely to oppose any measure that would result in the creation of new licenses, as well as allowing horse tracks to operate slot machines and table games, as this would mean further competition in the industry. The recent rise of video gambling has led to a drop in revenue for the casinos and they are not open to expanded gambling.
Sports Betting Should Have A Separate Bill
Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo does not want sports betting to get caught up in these conflicting arguments, saying there should be a separate sports betting bill that could stand on its own, in case a wider gambling expansion bill does not push through. Gov. Pritzker also wants a separate sports betting bill as that is the best and fastest way to get sports betting legalized in Illinois.
However, the debate surrounding the implementation of sports betting regulations has yet to be resolved. Members of the House still can’t seem to agree on a number of details, including what sectors should get a share of the revenue.
This is what State Rep. Mike Zalewski will try to sort out in the coming weeks. The Riverside Democrat, who is heading negotiations on sports betting, said he will file a revised sports betting proposal next week.

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