Illinois sports betting could be in the mix

Online Poker, Fantasy Sports Might Be Part Of Larger Illinois Gaming Package, Lawmaker Says

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Illinois came close to passing online gambling and daily fantasy sports legislation this year, but proposed bills didn’t quite reach the finish line.

Rep. Michael Zalewski, who has spearheaded efforts on DFS in the state’s House of Representatives in recent years, talked about the prospects for 2018 on these fronts with Online Poker Report. The Illinois Senate passed an online gambling and DFS bill in the spring.

One of the developments is the possibility of DFS and online poker being rolled into a larger gaming package in Illinois, somewhat like what we saw in Pennsylvania but far less expansive.

Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

A 2018 Illinois gaming package?

OPR: This year, gaming bills in Illinois have had online poker, casinos and daily fantasy sports. Might we see a larger gaming expansion bill in 2018, and will that make it easier to pass?

Zalewski: Generally in Illinois, we’ve seen that it’s difficult to pass gaming legislation because of the wide variety of stakeholders involved. And that probably manifested itself with daily fantasy sports more than most, because you saw for the first time an internet-based platform, where there was no bricks and mortar associated with it.

As we go forward, I think lawmakers are starting to get a little more public pressure and private pressure from you know, say the horse racing industry or other forms of gaming entertainment saying that “You haven’t done anything relative to gaming in the last few years, can you please address some of the concerns many of us have?”

So at a certain point we’ll see some movement on all these issues. It might not be earth-shattering in nature — maybe just for or five of the 10 boxes that needed me to be checked — but I’m confident that sooner rather than later we’ll get to a comprehensive package that people can support.

What other than DFS and iGaming?

OPR: So what else is in the mix other than the things we saw this year (DFS and online gambling) for this gaming package?

Zalewski: From what I know, the horse racing industry has a strong desire to make the product a little more profitable via what they can do inside the horse racing track. I know the video gaming industry has expressed a desire to change some of the things related to their industry. I know bricks and mortar casinos have expressed a desire to expand their platform to different forms of entertainment, including iGaming and iPoker.

There’s enough out there where people have said, “Hey, can we address this in some sort of comprehensive package?” My interest has always been daily fantasy sports, but I’m also enough of a realist and pragmatic enough to understand that things work better when they’re part of an overall package.

I think we need one and hopefuly we do one, because it’s better to get some of economic growth out of these activities rather than having things remain stagnant.

OPR: And that’s part of the mix in Illinois. You obviously got to a budget this year, but there’s still a need for revenue in the state, right?

Zalewski: The governor’s budget office thinks that revenues won’t meet expenditures, so there’s a need for that.

There are pension costs that need to be addressed. Our roads and bridges and infrastructure problems continue to exacerbate, and we haven’t had a capital program since 2009. And the way we’re briefed on infrastructure spending, the gas tax is becoming a less and less reliable way to fund these projects, simply because people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, and they’re taking bikes and trains, Uber and Lyft.

So we’ve got to start being more creative when it comes to revenue, and I think that’s a small piece of the puzzle.

When for DFS, online gambling?

OPR: Can you handicap when we might see some movement on a gaming expansion?

Zalewski: The thing about the calendar from now until March 20, we are in session in January, and we have some big ticket items to deal with in January. We’ll be in for a few days in February. But then there’s the Democratic primary, which in Illinois, that tends to suck up a lot of oxygen.

So I’m always hesitant to put timelines on things like this, but I would hope in the spring we would start to see some movement on some of these items.

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Sports betting in Illinois?

OPR: And obviously the New Jersey sports betting case looms out there. That leaves open the possibility of a state like Illinois legalizing it. What kind of chance is there that that gets added to a package?

Zalewski: I think that if New Jersey wins, I think you’re going to have a dynamic where operators try to fill the space and dare states to shut them down.

In that environment, I don’t think it makes sense to prohibit it as much as it makes sense to strongly regulate. I’ve always been hesitant to lump daily fantasy in with sports betting, because I really do have faith in the skill component of DFS.

That being said, we’re going to have to come to grips with some of this, if New Jersey wins the case.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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