Illinois Lawmaker Sees Difficult Road Ahead For Online Casino Legislation

Posted By Matthew Kredell on August 30, 2021

Lawmakers agree that online casino legislation won’t pass in Illinois in 2022. One legislator pegs the year 2023 as a long shot as well.

Sen. Dave Syverson (pictured) warned PlayIllinois that a post-pandemic economic downturn could doom Illinois’ internet gambling’s prospects.

Syverson said:

“In the politics of this right now, I just don’t see there being any serious discussion about iGaming until at least 2023. And if the economy is bad in ’23, it won’t be touched then either.”

The dean of Illinois senators with 29 years of service, Syverson sits on the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The commission recently administered a study on how much revenue the state lost by not having online casino gaming during the pandemic.

Why Illinois won’t legalize online casino in 2022

Sen. Cristina Castro ordered the study to spark consideration of internet gambling legislation in 2022.

She said she expected the conversation to get going next year, but it would take time to educate lawmakers.

Syverson named several more reasons why the Illinois Legislature won’t seriously consider internet gaming legislation in 2022:

  • It’s an election year, and not the time for lawmakers to touch controversial legislation.
  • The Illinois Gaming Board still hasn’t fully implemented many of the gaming expansions the legislature passed in 2019. Lawmakers don’t see fit to burden the regulators more.
  • Illinois won’t need the money in 2022. Federal handouts related to the pandemic have state and local governments flush with cash through next year.
  • Bars, restaurants and veterans organizations rely on video gaming terminal revenue more than ever coming out of the pandemic. They oppose expansion to internet gambling.

Not all lawmakers have casinos in their districts, but all have bars and restaurants.

“What politician is going to vote for something if, back home, his local restaurants, bars and veterans and fraternal organizations are opposed to it?” Syverson asked. “That would be political suicide, especially in an election year.”

Why 2023 could bring issues for online casino legislation

When that federal money runs out, Syverson fears Illinois will be in for a rude awakening.

“Come January of ’23, the cliffs are so dramatic that we don’t know what state government is going to do. I think it will be a very volatile economic time.”

One might think that’s when it makes sense for the state to turn toward internet casino tax revenue.

However, the study notes the possible cannibalization of VGT revenue by online gambling.

Syverson sees it as part of a growing concern in Illinois of online operations coming in and putting brick-and-mortars out of business.

“There’s only so much disposable gaming dollars. I can tell you, a lot of restaurants and bars and VFWs in Illinois are only staying open because they’ve got the video gaming revenue to keep them sustainable. If, all of a sudden, that gaming revenue were to decrease, it would have a big devastation. I think when talking about iGaming, the possibility of expanding anything that’s internet-based versus brick-and-mortars based is going to be very difficult to happen.”

Syverson explained the best bet for online casino legalization in 2023 is for state and local economies to come out of the pandemic better than expected.

Photo by Seth Perlman / AP
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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