Could iGaming Expansion Ride in on Illinois Online Horse Betting Bill?

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Illinois often makes the short list of states that could regulate online gambling in the near term, and with the start of the Fall legislative session this week, there is new speculation that such legislation could be piggy-backed onto a bill that would allow for the continuation of online horse betting in the state.

The rules governing online horse betting in Illinois are set to expire in January 2014.

And there have been rumors – only rumors, mind you – that when, and if, lawmakers renew those permissions, the legislature might see an opening to clear the way for other forms of online wagering in Illinois.

Discord among racing interests may interfere

One thing that might get in the way of such a plan, however, is the fact that Illinois’ horseracing interests are currently squabbling about how the proceeds from horse bets placed online are distributed.

At issue is what percentage of the take goes to the online operators and what goes to everyone else.

One of the most prominent tracks in the state, Arlington International Racecourse, is happy with how the money is split and wants Illinois lawmakers to renew the regulations as they stand today, according to the Daily Herald.

Not surprising, considering Arlington is owned by Churchill Downs, as is the company that sees the most action from online horse betting in Illinois, TwinSpires.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and other Illinois racetracks would like to get a bigger slice of the pie, and the disagreement could ultimately lead to a delay in the approval of the online horse betting rules or a failure to renew them at all.

For its part, the Illinois Racing Board says that if lawmakers do not renew online horse betting regulations – which they did allow to lapse for a period of several months this year – racing schedules for 2014 will be impacted.

While proponents of legalizing online wagering in Illinois have an interest in pairing online horse wagering with other types of online betting, that alliance may not be appealing to the state’s horseracing industry, which clearly would prefer to see lawmakers renew the expiring rules rather than scrapping online horse wagering altogether, something not out of the realm of possibility should there be an attempt at expanding the parameters of Internet betting.

Land-based casino bill likely holds no promise for iGaming

Another route to regulated online betting in Illinois could be via a casino expansion bill that never made it to a vote during the Spring legislative term, but is back on the lips, if not the dockets, of Illinois lawmakers.

The House sponsor of that failed Illinois bill, known as Senate Bill 1739, which would have put five new land-based casinos in Illinois, including one in downtown Chicago, in addition to allowing for the installation of slot machines in Chicago’s two major airports, is set to revisit the issue today in a legislative hearing.

State Representative Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), says he wants to find out what needs to be done to give the legislation better chances for success should he decide to re-introduce it in the state’s lower chamber, though Rita also acknowledged that he sees little likelihood of a casino expansion vote taking place this term.

“I want to make sure this thing is done in the right way,” Rita told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Southtown Star.

It should be noted that as SB1739 made its way around Springfield earlier this year, an online component was stripped from the legislation primarily to make the bill more attractive to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Governor Quinn, never a proponent of increasing the scope of gambling in Illinois, has continually stressed his unwillingness to support gambling expansion before lawmakers deal with the state’s massive $100 billion public pension shortfall, a problem he again addressed yesterday, calling it an “extreme emergency.”

Quinn, who faces re-election next year, has repeatedly remarked that he expects Illinois legislators to focus on a fix for the state’s pension deficit, not gambling.

- Kim focuses on the intersection of online gambling and state regulatory issues in her work for OnlinePokerReport and a variety of other industry publications.
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