Even Rep. Michael Zalewski thought in-state college wagering was coming to Illinois by college football season.
After the House waited until the final day of the legislative session to pass a gaming bill headlined by the in-state sports betting change, Zalewski tweeted about the coming change pending the governor’s signature.
Apparently, he thought Senate passage was a sure thing. But given other priorities and no time to review the legislation, the Senate declined to address the bill.
Sen. Cristina Castro told PlayIllinois:
“The Senate didn’t have a chance to dissect it and go through it. I think, as far as the Senate is concerned, it’s mostly a clean-up bill. Nothing heavy. There’s just a few things I think we’re going to examine a little more as I understand it from last I heard before we adjourned.”
Last-minute gaming bills nothing new in Illinois
Rep. Bob Rita waited until Memorial Day to take a small raffle bill passed by the Senate in April and turn it into a gaming omnibus bill. The bill also includes various clean-up items for sports betting, casinos, horse racing and video gaming terminals (VGTs).
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s similar to how sports betting was legalized in June 2019, through a gaming package put together in the final days of the session.
Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said:
“Everyone says you can tell when the end of session is coming because that’s when the large gaming bill comes out.
“We’re used to that. They could have put this out a little earlier, but they just didn’t. I don’t think there’s anything in there controversial for any of us – the gaming board, casinos, racing guys or VGT guys.”
The House did hold a hearing on gaming matters in April, but the issues weren’t addressed in the Senate. Then the Senate was still working on a budget implementation plan past the scheduled final day of the session.
“I just think it was a matter of timing,” Swoik said. “It got through the House so late, and then when it got to the Senate they were dealing with other issues. It’s my understanding over on the Senate side that things were so busy on some of social justice issues, redistricting and the budget, that gaming didn’t come up until that night.”
March Madness creates mood for change
Swoik believes the push for betting on in-state colleges gained momentum during March Madness when many Illinois residents were confused why they couldn’t bet on the local teams.
Loyola University of Chicago’s Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament played a key role. Along the way, Loyola upset top-seeded Illinois in the second round.
“There would have been six games that Illinois residents could have bet on in the NCAA Tournament if this amendment had been in place,” Swoik said. “And there would have been big bets when Illinois and Loyola played each other.”
Why limit local college wagering to in-person?
Zalewski told PlayIllinois that he supported the compromise to start wagering on Illinois college teams only at brick-and-mortar facilities. His original bill included online wagering.
Who the compromise was between is a mystery. The lone opposition at the April hearing came from Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman. He represented athletic directors from Illinois’ other 13 Div. I colleges.
“I’m not sure the legislature came to any compromise with the colleges. I think it was just something done to try to make it less offensive.”
The bill also limits wagering on in-state college teams to the outcomes of games, a more clear compromise.
Swoik believes it is possible that the Senate removes the in-person requirement for betting on local college teams once it takes up the bill. Given that the Senate didn’t have the opportunity to consider the bill, he could see the Senate adding in some other gaming-related issues as well.
“Obviously, we’re going to have a lot less betting if it’s in person versus online,” Swoik said. “I suppose from some people’s viewpoint, fewer bets means there’s less chance to sway a game.”
When will fans be able to bet on Illinois teams?
Rita’s S 521 remains live in Illinois. The next opportunity for passage will come in October when the legislature returns for a veto session. Swoik hopes to get the bill passed then:
“I think the chances of this bill Rita had getting through in October are pretty good.”
October passage could bring wagering on Illinois college teams to the state by the end of the college football season and the beginning of college basketball. Castro sees that as a possibility.
“It could be something we take up in the veto session,” Castro said. “I haven’t asked leadership, but I think it’s something they’re watching and want to have some conversations about.”
Illinois is in the first year of a two-year legislative session. If S 521 doesn’t get addressed this year, it will at the start of 2022, having already passed the House.
Passage early in the regular session could still provide the fix needed for Illinoisans to bet on in-state teams during the next March Madness.