As an Illinois native, I find immense joy in tracking the state’s progress with online gambling. It’s been a treat to watch Illinois sports betting expand in the past few years.
I consider myself a dabbler. I sprinkle a few bucks on the Bears here and there. And I bet on the Super Bowl or the occasional March Madness game. I have many friends who enjoy betting more than I do. They’ll plop down for a day of catching whatever games are on. And, if they’re lucky, they will win some money with which they can bet more.
With sports betting proving a success in Illinois, I wondered what these friends might think about the potential for Illinois online casinos. So, I asked them, aiming to answer the question of what, exactly, Illinois bettors think about legalizing online casinos in the state.
My utterly unscientific poll by the numbers
I want to be ultra-clear from the start about the parameters of my incredibly unscientific “study.” I surveyed 10 of my friends, all of whom have different betting habits. These results come from a small pool of bettors in Chicago and the surrounding area. Still, they paint an interesting picture of a city divided when it comes to opinions on Illinois online casinos.
Should Illinois legalize online casinos?
- Yes: 40%
- No: 40%
- Yes, but highly regulated and with limits on total wager amounts: 10%
- Don’t care either way: 10%
Have you played real money online casinos in a legal state such as Michigan?
- Yes: 50%
- No: 50%
How often do you bet on sports?
- Not at all: 0%
- Once in a while (big events such as the Super Bowl or March Madness): 50%
- 1-3 bets/games per week: 10%
- 4-10 bets/games per week: 30%
- 10+ bets/games per week: 10%
How do these bettors really feel about Illinois online casinos, though? Let’s take a look.
A tale of two perspectives
Detailed opinions from the surveyed bettors ran the gamut from “all for” to completely neutral to staunchly opposed. They all asked that I either keep them anonymous or not use their full names.
Some folks said Illinois should go ahead, but with important caveats.
“We already legalized other forms of gambling,” said Stacy. “People who want to gamble, but cannot legally do so, will find a way on the black market. I would rather it be regulated and safe.”
In fact, regulation was repeatedly mentioned among those who said Illinois should move forward with online casino legislation.
“There is already gambling in a physical casino,” said Mr. Doherty (who asked to be attributed as such). “As long as it’s regulated, I don’t see why online should be any different.”
Regulation is key
Meanwhile, Matt said:
“With everything else going to the online world, for efficiency and ease of use, especially with successes during the pandemic, this is just the next domino to fall. I worry about regulations and trust with suppliers, but if this is regulated and safe to use, then how different is it from going to a casino in person?
“It is concerning that people can be gambling with ease of use and losing a lot of money, but people already experience this with online shopping and other activities. Give people the choice of what works for them for their activities, same as in shopping, social interactions, video gaming, working from home, etc.”
Colin is also concerned about the level of regulation in Illinois, should online casinos become legal in the state.
“There is certainly risk that it will cause gambling addiction issues, but if consumers are limited in how much and how often they can gamble, serious financial risks for consumers could be mitigated,” he said. “I highly doubt that level of regulation will actually occur, but I still lean towards ‘yes’ from a personal freedom perspective. Most importantly, the casinos need to be taxed at astronomically high rates, without any of the loopholes that exist in the sports betting world (e.g. tax breaks on bonus bets), as the tax revenue is critical in dealing with issues associated with problem gamblers, especially if you don’t create a system that limits how much people can bet.”
Taxes came up in Erin’s response as well. “I would love for Illinois to have the revenue stream from taxing online casinos,” she said. “Ideally, those dollars would be put to good use!”
Problem gambling concerns
One responder, who asked to remain anonymous, said the risk of increased problem gambling is simply too great to legalize online casinos.
“Even though they are extremely fun, I don’t think making online casinos legal is a good thing. There are many people who have self control and can benefit from [online casinos] for entertainment purposes, but there are also many people who have gambling addictions; this could ruin lives by making it too easy to gamble.”
Sher expressed similar concerns: “I went on a vacation to Michigan and we all played at online casinos. It was a blast, but I distinctly remember thinking, ‘This should not be legal,’” she said. “Illinois has never had casinos as accessible as ordering a pizza. I’m terrified for my friends who could wake up and throw a grand on black [in roulette] from the comfort of their own bed.”
Michael, added: “I think the idea of online casinos is great. You can hit the tables wherever! However, in reality, I think it will ultimately cause more harm than good to the general public. The ability to pull out your phone and play a ‘game’ at the push of a button, app, etc. pushes the line on irresponsibility. If you want to play table games, great. But let’s keep those inside the walls of a physical casino.”
One final voice opposing IL online casinos was Brian.
“Through the lens of a casual sports bettor, I view online casino gambling as more predatory on the user than sports gambling. While both can be addictive and are designed for you to spend your money, sportsbooks generally have more time and interaction between spending money, allowing you to realize you may want to take a break or stop. On the other hand, in casino gambling, a constant flow of money being spent is the point in hopes of winning and keeps the user locked in and more willing to keep going farther and farther.”
Where do we go from here?
Ten sports bettors within a hyper-localized geography certainly won’t move the needle for Illinois online casinos.
Still, they bring up issues regulators and lawmakers should consider. Online casino legislation can’t take the form of dollar signs in the state’s eyes. There need to be strict regulations and safety measures in place to address problem gambling and related issues.
The Internet Gaming Act is still active in state’s General Assembly. Let’s hope it picks up a solid framework to protect the public along the way.