Rep. Zalewski Expects Online Poker To Be Legal In Illinois ‘Sooner Rather Than Later’

Written By Joe Boozell on November 3, 2021 - Last Updated on November 4, 2021

State Rep. Michael Zalewski, who was been behind some of the biggest Illinois gaming legislation over the past few years, is optimistic about the future of online poker in the Land of Lincoln.

Appearing on Joe Ostrowski’s “Early Odds” weekly betting show on 670 The Score, Zalewski discussed HB 3136, which passed through the Senate and House last week. Ostrowski then asked Zalewski about online poker in Illinois.

Zalewski said:

“I think it’s (online poker) the next big thing. And I don’t say that casually.”

He continued:

“Going into the 2023 legislative session, that’ll be coming out of stimulus money and we’ll be looking for ways to generate revenue. I expect online poker to be something seriously discussed soon. I think the prospects are good. I’ve been up in Michigan, I’ve been on the DraftKings app. It’s haunting how easy it is. But the technology is there and I expect it to be legal sooner rather than later.”

Zalewski added that it is unlikely to happen in the 2022 legislative session, which will be more focused on the budget and “smaller projects.”

But seeing as how gaudy the Illinois sports betting market is, there would be a serious appetite for mobile poker in IL. And even if online casino faces a tough legislative road ahead, poker might be an easier sell for lawmakers.

Why online poker would be easier to pass as a one-off in Illinois

Online poker was included in 2021 Senate and House online casino bills that failed to gain much traction. There is serious resistance from the video gaming terminal (VGT) industry about legalizing online casino in Illinois, and right now, many politicians are on the VGT side.

VGTs rake in a ton of tax revenue for the state, so certain lawmakers may not see any incentive to mess with their success.

Online poker would be less threatening to the Illinois VGT industry due to the nature of the games. VGT operators fear cannibalization, and the machines are very similar to slots.

On the other hand, a VGT experience does not resemble real money online poker against other players. Because of that, it’s harder to argue that online poker would cannibalize the VGT industry.

Therefore, it should be easier to pass than online casinos as a whole.

As Zalewski said, he doesn’t expect to see any major iGaming developments during the 2022 legislative session. But come 2023, it could be a different story.

Illinois gaming industry is evolving

Zalewski appeared on Ostrowski’s show to discuss the passage of HB 3136. The bill gives a March 5, 2022, end date for in-person registration, and it also legalizes betting on Illinois college teams — with an in-person caveat.

Zalewski also said that the in-person stipulation would be revisited in two years.

Once Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signs HB 3136, Wintrust Arena will be able to apply for a sports betting license. Zalewski also expects the United Center to apply for a sports betting license once Chicago laws are tweaked appropriately.

The Illinois sports betting market is thriving despite the current in-person registration policy. IL is consistently third among US states in monthly handle, and it could leapfrog Nevada for second once online registration returns.

Illinois has the sixth-largest population in the country, which is a big reason for sports betting’s success. It’s also a reason to be optimistic about the future of online poker.

Currently, online poker is legal in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan and Nevada. Poker enthusiasts are hoping Illinois follows suit.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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