An internet gambling study could spark real consideration of legalizing the activity for Illinois in 2022. However, the lawmaker who ordered the study sees 2023 as a more realistic timeframe for Illinois to authorize online gaming.
Sen. Cristina Castro (pictured above) tells PlayIllinois that the study begins the process of educating her colleagues about online casino, where else it is being done and if it’s right for Illinois.
“I don’t know if it can be done in a year. It’s going to take time to educate my colleagues on what iGaming is and what it isn’t. There are people with concerns, and we need to address VGTs. Maybe we set up the ground work over 2022 and look at 2023 to pass it.”
Online casino bill gains no momentum in 2021
Rep. Bob Rita introduced a bill to legalize online casino gambling this session. However, the bill didn’t get much attention during or after an April committee hearing.
Tom Swoik, the executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, told PlayIllinois that even though Rita was looking at and is willing to consider legislation on internet gambling, “he is not a fan of iGaming.”
This was the first year of a two-year legislative session for Illinois. So internet gambling bills introduced in 2020 will carry over into 2021.
“It won’t be starting out from scratch, but damn near it,” Swoik said.
Illinois online gaming study due in October
Swoik and Illinois casinos began pushing for online casino in May 2020, when they were closed due to the pandemic.
Castro has the Grand Victoria Casino in her district. When it closed for months during the pandemic, she saw the impact it had on the local economy and jobs.
She introduced SR 303 to lead to more discussion on iGaming. The resolution requests that the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability produce a report by Oct. 1 estimating the additional tax revenue Illinois could have generated if it had online casino gambling throughout the pandemic.
The Senate adopted the resolution on June 1, the final day of the regular legislative session. Castro said:
“Senate Resolution 303 really came from watching at the height of the pandemic how many states with gaming had to shutter brick-and-mortar operations, and states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey didn’t realize losses based on the fact that they had income coming in from iGaming.”
Legislature to hold veto session in October
Right after the report comes back, it just so happens that the Illinois legislature will meet for a veto session.
Lawmakers hope to get Rita’s gaming bill that includes wagering on in-state college teams through the House and to the governor’s desk at this time.
However, Swoik said the chances of iGaming coming up in October for any kind of vote are “slim or next to none.”
Castro agreed that online gaming won’t get any discussion this year despite the report’s due date.
“It is a large item that needs thorough vetting, conversation and obviously implementation. It couldn’t be done during a special session.”
Swoik thinks there might be some gambling fatigue in the legislature. After passing a comprehensive gambling expansion previously, lawmakers haven’t seen much in the way of revenues from it. The new casinos they authorized have yet to open.
“I think there’s some reluctance because we passed a huge gaming expansion bill two years ago and not much has come from it,” Swoik said. “Sports wagering is kind of taking off, but really that’s just the last four months. So I think there’s some reluctance to delve into something new until that gets going.”
More time needed to educate lawmakers on iGaming
Armed with the data from the study, Castro sees next year being about educating colleagues about online gaming.
“I think data is very important,” she said. “If the data justifies it and we see how it has worked in other states, I think that will be helpful to continue the conversation of whether that’s a path down which we should consider going.”
Castro compared the legalization of iGaming to that of marijuana. Lawmakers were nervous about it at first, but she believes the program turned out good for the state.
“We have to show them what iGaming is and how it continues to advance. It’s not your traditional betting anymore. It’s much more advanced, and there’s also protections in there to make sure young folks don’t get access.”
She believes that it will help the argument that Illinois already is doing sports betting online and hasn’t had any issues.
“But we haven’t had sports betting very long,” Castro said. “As long as we continue down the right path, it makes it a lot easier to say to colleagues that we’ve done it with sports betting and we have all these precautions already in place.”