SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois should move quickly to establish itself as an international leader in online poker and other types of Internet gambling, state Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday, claiming the payoff could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Chicago Democrat is introducing legislation that would create a Division of Internet Gaming within the state lottery. Under his proposal, that new division would make Illinois the first state to jump into the world of online gambling. Illinois is already the first to sell lottery tickets online.
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"The state could organize the first major poker pool, garner worldwide popularity, and position itself as a `hub' for multistate and international iGaming," Cullerton said in a letter to the governor and other legislative leaders.
Cullerton said it is imperative for Illinois to act this spring, before other states take the lead.
But others urged caution.
"We should not rush to vote on this proposal, blinded by some dollar signs," said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "This is a massive expansion of gambling that deserves serious consideration."
The U.S. Justice Department says states can offer Internet gambling so long as it doesn't involve betting on sports teams. The ruling allowed Illinois to sell lottery tickets online, but it also opened the door to much broader gambling options.
Cullerton's proposal would allow online gambling by anyone who is 21 or older and physically in the state of Illinois. It would also let people set maximum amounts of time and money they could spend gambling.
Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, chairs the Senate Gaming Committee and is a frequent advocate of expanding gambling in Illinois. He praised Cullerton's proposal as having "unlimited potential" and said it would not cut into business at Illinois casinos.
Millions of people are already gambling online, Link said, so there's no reason Illinois shouldn't get some of that money. And if Illinois acts quickly, he said, it could establish itself before other states jump in.
"It's better to be first than to be last," Link said.