Illinois House Bill 3142 had lots of support in a committee hearing in April, but stagnated thereafter

The Illinois Legislative Session Ends Today – Is The Online Gambling Effort Dead?

“He’s not dead. He’s resting.”

So goes the Dead Parrot Sketchperhaps the most iconic bit of humor ever produced by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. If you somehow haven’t seen it, it consists of a dishonest pet shop owner (Michael Palin) attempting to avoid refunding a disgruntled customer (John Cleese) for what is clearly a dead parrot.

The effort to legalize online gambling in Illinois now finds itself in a similarly dubious predicament, albeit with better chances of genuine recovery.

Like the skit’s “Norwegian Blue,” the Illinois online casino bill started off shiny and full of promise. Despite its unfortunate in-person registration clause, there was plenty to be excited about. One nice feature was the expedited timeline it laid out for getting from legalization to launch.

Had the bill passed, we could have seen Illinois online poker rooms and casinos up and running before the end of the year. That’s no longer possible, as today marks the final day of the state’s regular legislative session. Despite plenty of positive feedback at a committee hearing in April, the bill hasn’t made any progress since then. Lawmakers have instead been scrambling to take care of more essential pieces of legislation, like a budget, and a new energy policy.

This isn’t uncommon. It’s an unfortunate reality that time is often the greatest enemy of gambling expansion in the US. Sometimes a bill might fail due to active resistance. More often, however, they die due to the clock running out before enough fence-sitters can get coaxed over to the yea side.

That seems to be the case right now in Illinois.

Hopes have fallen for the spring, but spring eternal for the fall

Fortunately, HB3142 – also known as the Internet Gaming Act – may in fact be merely “pining for the fjords,” and ready to make a miraculous recovery in a few months.

The Illinois legislature should reconvene for a veto session in the fall. It cancelled that session last year due to COVID, but it is standard practice under more normal circumstances. Lawmakers may take that opportunity to finish what they started in the spring.

This, too, is not uncommon. Online gambling legislation is complicated by necessity, and bills sometimes require these “extra innings” to make it into law.

Aside from the iGaming bill, Illinois lawmakers have also been working on modifications to the current sports betting laws, which passed in 2019. If Illinois sports betting comes up during the veto session, it’s likely that the iGaming bill will get some attention as well.

Update (5/31/21, 6:40 p.m. ET): It appears that it may have been premature to talk about the sports betting modifications waiting for fall. Senate Bill 521, which would enact the changes, has passed to the House on the final day of the session. As of this update, it is with the Rules Committee and could pass before the session expires. If it does, our colleagues at PlayIllinois and Legal Sports Report will have a more detailed report on the changes, which we will supply a link to.

Update (6/1/21, 10:00 a.m. ET): The session has extended into overtime this morning. SB 521 passed its vote in the House by a wide margin and awaits the governor’s signature. It will allow bets on in-state college teams, but only bets placed in person, before the game, and on the game’s final outcome. It also makes minor tweaks to other gambling laws, such as those governing video lottery terminals, and adds Wintrust Arena to the list of sports venues able to apply for a sports betting license.

Senate needs more info, will wait for October

There’s another reason to believe this, too. Although the bill hasn’t yet cleared the House, the Senate is already thinking about it. Earlier this month, Senators passed a resolution asking for a study of the potential revenue online casinos could create for the state.

The date they want it by? October 1. Veto sessions in Illinois typically start in November. That should give Senators enough chance to read the report and decide what they want to do about it. If the House does advance the bill during the veto session, the Senate will have a very limited window in which to vote on it.

If all that fails, then there’s always 2022. There’s certainly enough support for iGaming in Illinois that it should happen eventually. These delays are nonetheless frustrating after what looked, at first, like it had the potential to be the fastest implementation of legal online casinos in US history.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for OnlinePokerReport, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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