Illinois casinos made a push to legalize online gaming prior to the end of the legislative session in May. The casinos unanimously called for Illinois internet gaming to protect against further casino closures from a second wave of the coronavirus.
However, one Illinois lawmaker explained to PlayIllinois why the pandemic makes it less likely that the legislature will seriously consider legalizing online casino in 2021.
Sen. Dave Syverson noted that there is a lot of opposition to any kind of gambling expansion because of the impacts on restaurants, bars and local municipalities. Many establishments offer video gaming terminals (VGTs), and the revenue they create is significant to many cities. Syverson said:
“Bars and restaurants that have been just devastated by the overly restrictive COVID rules from the state of Illinois need the little bit of video gaming they have going right now to help them stay in business. If they lost VGT revenue to the internet, we’d see a lot of restaurants and bars having to close.”
Casino asks of legislature during pandemic
In April, the Senate held a special Committee on Gaming to hear what the reeling industry needed from the legislature before its session ended in May.
Tom Swoik, a state-government lobbyist, spoke at the virtual meeting on behalf of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. He asked lawmakers to consider four changes to support the industry:
- Implement the new table game rates immediately for all table games and slots.
- Delay the payment due date for any new gaming positions purchased.
- Reduce the license fee for a sports wagering license.
- Consider iGaming as a new and dependable source for revenue.
The legislature addressed the first two requests. The new rates established in the 2019 bill went into effect July 1, rather than waiting for the first new casino to open, but only for table games. The payment due date for new gaming positions was pushed back one year.
However, the legislature did not act on the last two asks.
“We had a whole list of things we wanted to see if we could get done to ease up what was happening with the virus,” Swoik said. “It makes sense for us to be able to generate more revenues if we can get iGaming now but, apparently, it’s not high on the legislative agenda.”
Session ends without real consideration for internet gaming
Industry leaders continued to push for online casino gaming in the final week of the session in May. Internet gaming could help casinos become pandemic-resistant.
Swoik said that all nine of the casinos in his association were in favor of adding iGaming, and he believed the lone outlier, Par-A-Dice Casino, was on board as well.
Illinois casino support for online gambling didn’t begin with the pandemic. The majority of casinos supported legalization in 2017 when SB 7 with the Internet Gaming Act passed the Senate but did not get through the House.
It’s not easy to get all the Illinois casinos to agree on something. But it’s not always enough to create change in the complicated political landscape of Illinois.
“We did ask for and push iGaming during the last days of the session, but it did not make the cut,” Swoik said. “Internet gaming was too big for them to try to do that short week. It’s probably too big to do in the veto session as well. I suspect we will push next year. If it happens next year, it will be in the last week of May. That’s when gaming stuff gets done.”
Illinois internet gaming has tough road ahead
Syverson contended that there’s no shortage of opponents facing online casino games in Illinois.
- Illinois Licensed Beverage Association
- VGT operators
- Owners of restaurants and bars
- Illinois Municipal League Association
- Mayors and state representatives for every community in the state that does not have a casino
- Legislators who don’t want gambling online in general
- The state lottery and lottery retailers
The city of Rockford, which Syverson represents, gets $1 million a year from VGTs.
Syverson can see Illinois legalizing internet gaming at some point. But he suggests it will take extensive negotiations to involve or appease the VGT community.
“There will be a time when that is going to be more seriously discussed, but I think right now there’s so much sympathy for what’s happened to restaurants and bars,” Syverson said.