Lots Of Heavyweight Potential For This Week’s Illinois ‘Gaming Proposals’ Hearing

Written By Joe Boozell on April 26, 2021 - Last Updated on March 9, 2022
gaming proposal hearing

An executive committee hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. CST Wednesday, April 28, to discuss Illinois “gaming proposals.”

While we at PlayIllinois don’t know the details, there are significant topics that could be on the table:

    • Online casino legislation
    • In-person sports betting registration requirement
    • Illinois collegiate betting ban
    • Illinois horse racing

There isn’t a public agenda, but there is a witness list:

  • Jeff Kaplan (Penn National Gaming)
  • Lydia Garvey (Hollywood Casino Joliet)
  • Steve Brubaker (Brubaker Public Relations, Inc., on behalf of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA))
  • Tony Somone (IHHA)
  • Tom Swoik (Illinois Casino Gaming Association)
  • David McCaffrey (Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association)
  • Jim Watkins (Illinois Horsemen Benevolent & Protective Association)
  • Michael Alter (Chicago Sky)

They all will provide oral testimony, and are listed as “proponents.”

State Rep. Bob Rita is the committee chairperson. You may recognize Rita’s name, as he is a co-sponsor of the Internet Gaming Act, which would legalize Illinois online casinos.

Here’s a rundown on where the significant Illinois gaming issues stand now, and what hints the witness list offer.

Online casino bills in Illinois House and Senate

Currently, there is online casino legislation in the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate. The bills are not the same, but the details are similar.

Each includes a six-month in-person registration requirement and a tax rate between 12%-15%. They also include online poker and live dealer versions of casino games.

Rita and State Rep. Jonathan Carroll co-sponsored the House bill. Carroll is a committee member and will also attend the hearing.

Swoik, who’s on the witness list, told PlayIllinois in February that he hopes lawmakers will see online casino gaming as a needed industry advancement:

“Casinos were closed down the whole month of December, but did pretty well with sports bets online. This is an opportunity for the state and casinos to generate revenue with internet gaming. It seems to me that the timing is right to do it now because if things continue and there’s another flare-up and casinos have to close down again, everybody loses.”

As we’ve seen in nearby Michigan (and elsewhere), online casino trumps sports betting in terms of revenue. In March, Michigan generated $17.3 million in state and local taxes.

Meanwhile, Illinois sports betting has never produced more than $8 million in tax revenue in a single month.

Speaking of sports betting, what issues could be discussed?

The in-person registration requirement is an obvious answer.

With that said, it’s interesting that the only IL sports betting operator on the witness list is from Penn National Gaming, which operates with Barstool.

Barstool was the latest online sportsbook to launch in Illinois, and arguably, most-affected the most by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s online registration reversal. With that said, Penn also operates online casinos in multiple states, including West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, so would likely be more interested in online casino passing.

Absent from the witness list is anyone from Rush Street (Rivers), DraftKings or FanDuel. Rush Street would likely lobby for in-person registration, while DraftKings and FanDuel would push for mobile registration.

Meanwhile, there is also a House bill that would repeal the ban on in-state collegiate betting. Illinoisans currently can’t bet on Illinois, Northwestern, Loyola-Chicago, etc.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski re-filed a bill in February that would remove the ban. However, Zalewski is not listed to attend the hearing.

What about Illinois horse racing?

Take a look at the witness list, and you’ll see multiple people in the horse racing industry.

The IHHA recently posted an update on its website where it expressed concern for the future of Illinois horse racing.

Here’s an excerpt:

When Arlington Park (Churchill Downs) would not commit to a racing season beyond this year, it immediately became apparent that Hawthorne could be the only upstate racetrack left in 2022 ,and obviously, horsemen (harness and thoroughbred) are nervous about their future. Where we will race and when we will race are suddenly serious concerns.

The update mentions if Arlington doesn’t offer any racing in 2022, they may need to explore holding horse races at the Springfield State Fairgrounds or DuQuoin.

There have also been a number of proposed amendments made to the Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975 in 2021 that could be discussed.

Bottom line? Wednesday could serve as a significant day in the Illinois gaming industry, and we should learn quite a bit.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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