In the state of Illinois, the gears are grinding slowly into action as policy makers consider a move towards legal sports betting.
The media was awash with reports this week about Illinois and its stance on sports betting, details of which were aired at a second hearing on the subject in Springfield. Depending on what you choose to believe, there’s a healthy appetite to legalize, a reticence to rush things and an abject fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s a combination of all those three things lumped together.
There is one aspect to the Illinois story that will be hard to ignore as the powers that be deliberate, ruminate and cogitate over the 2017 S7 bill, namely that the state has a $130bn black hole in its pension fund. Currently, the means to fill said hole are as rare as rocking horse excreta, so any new money coming into the state is likely to be coveted by the finance people. In reality sports betting revenue won’t plug the gap, but it will fill some of those awkward corners.
Working on the assumption, then, that Illinois needs a fresh injection of new taxation, the chances are that sports betting will happen in the prairie state. Just don’t expect the cash till ring of success to be chiming this side of the New Year. The more likely outcome is for 2019, and not even the first quarter.
The emphasis is clearly on taking a slow, measured approach to legalizing sports wagering. It has to be remembered that sports betting wasn’t even included on the first version of bill S7 which merely addressed the issue of allowing a new casino. It has since been added to with daily fantasy sports, online gaming and sports betting. Evidently there’s now a bigger picture for Illinois legislators to consider.
But that isn’t altogether a bad thing. The overarching principle adopted by most states looking to go legal is to do it properly and correctly rather than quickly. No one likes the prospect of legislating in haste only to repent at leisure.
Key issues for Illinois? The level of taxation on sports betting is up there and Senator Lou Lang is keen not to follow the example of Pennsylvania with its 36 per cent levy. Then there’s the matter of an integrity fee for the major sports leagues. Lang didn’t summarily dismiss the notion at this week’s hearing, but he made it clear that there would have to be a quid pro quo. For the leagues to gain a slice of sports betting revenue, they will have to offer something in return.
Furthermore, does Illinois stick steadfastly to a physical brick and mortar approach or will online betting be included? The New Jersey experience, where $104m of the $184m wagered on sports betting in September, provides a compelling argument for the latter to happen.
The evangelists for change will also need to convince policy makers that the industry will be able to keep sports betting safe. There will be push back from the anti-gambling organisations who already argue that where gambling in the state is concerned – legal or otherwise – enough is enough.
But the glue that binds all of these different strands remains that pension black hole. Ultimately, the need to generate additional revenue for the state will be the catalyst for getting sports betting up and running in the land of Lincoln. At the very least, after this week’s hearing we now understand that it’s no longer a case of if, but when.