Law Enforcement Would Handle Sports Bettors That Threaten Athletes In Illinois

Written By C.J. Pierre on August 2, 2023
Angry sports bettor

These days, athletes don’t have to look very hard to find people that will be critical of them. Social media is the place where anyone can make their voice heard. However, we’ve seen instances where things can go too far, particularly when it comes to sports bettors that threaten athletes.

States across the country are taking a closer look at where they might be able to tighten their regulations to address concerns about the safety of athletes, their family members and on-field officials. The recently approved Ohio budget included a provision for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to place bettors on an exclusionary list for certain acts.

As the popularity of sports betting grows in the state of Illinois, these are concerns state regulators may also soon need to address the issue.

Currently, there is no provision in Illinois to ban bettors that threaten athletes from accessing Illinois sportsbooks.

Illinois Sports Wagering Act prohibits threatening athletes

A new Ohio sports betting provision included in the approved Ohio 2024-2025 fiscal year budget allows state regulators to permanently ban or place sports bettors on an exclusionary list if they’re found to be threatening athletes over a sporting event. It’s the first such provision ever approved in a state with legalized sports betting.

However, that does not mean other states do not have any regulations in place to protect athletes. Before Illinois sports betting got the green light, threats against athletes were something lawmakers considered. Although they did not take the step that is being taken now in Ohio.

The Illinois Sports Wagering Act prohibits threatening any athletes, officials or members of their families over the outcome of a sporting contest. The legislation refers to it as “prohibited conduct,” which includes threatening statements, actions and communications made to a person involved in the event or someone closely connected to them.

Though, the measure does not state what will happen to someone if they decide to threaten an athlete.

Illinois Gaming Board spokesperson Beth Kaufman told PlayIllinois that:

“In Illinois, threats of this nature would likely be handled by law enforcement. The Illinois Criminal Code and relevant federal criminal law statutes may address attempted and actual assault, threats, harassment, and other conduct and punishments.”

Could that include a ban from sports betting? That is unlikely under current rules.

Illinois AD cites problem of college athlete harassment

When the Illinois legislature passed the original bill to legalize Illinois sports betting in 2019, it prohibited wagering on in-state college athletics.

In December 2021, Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill allowing betting on in-state college teams. But it could only be done in-person at the state’s land-based sportsbooks.

Since then, some legislators have tried to expand betting on in-state college teams to online sportsbooks, but not with any urgency.

Josh Whitman, athletic director at the University of Illinois, recently argued against expanding in-state college betting to the online sportsbooks. In April, he spoke to a state House committee. Whitman said the past two years of in-state college wagering has been difficult on college athletes.

“Everything we were worried about when we first started having this conversation has ultimately come to pass,”  said Whitman. “Our student athletes are being frequent victims of online abuse, they are being ridiculed with very hostile words.”

He provided committee members with examples of social media abuse they have received over lost wagers.

“They’re 17, 18, 19 years old. … And they’re now being put in a position where they are the subject of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in gambling. Philosophically, my colleagues and I have a problem with that. And everything we had thought would happen has in fact happened over the last few years. So, we very much oppose seeing this broadened to include online and mobile applications.”

Whitman said that, although he had no data to back it up, this harassment of Illinois college athletes has increased over the past two years. That coincides with the explosion of online sports betting in Illinois. In March 2022, fresh legislation came into effect allowing Illinois residents to sign-up online for sportsbooks. Prior to that, customers had to sign up at one of the state’s land-based casinos.

Most recently, the discussion about the harassment of athletes was thrust into the limelight. This came after online attacks against the University of Dayton men’s basketball team. The team lost to Virginia Commonwealth University after being up by 14 points.

Will legislators in Illinois follow in Ohio’s footsteps and ban those that threaten athletes from being able to bet? That will likely be a talking point in the coming months.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Illinois. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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