Sports betting advocates push for legalization in Illinois

As spring training kicks off for Major League teams across the country, fans are picking their fantasy teams.

But after an opinion last year that daily fantasy sports betting is illegal in Illinois, proponents of the multibillion-dollar industry are making a push to make sure the games are legal this spring.

"There is a lot of legal uncertainty as to what the state of daily fantasy sports is in Illinois," state Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, said. "We need certainty in this area. We need it now."

Zalewski proposed legislation to regulate the online contests made popular by FanDuel and DraftKings. Participants pick a roster and win or lose based on players' stats in actual games.

The proposal allows gambling for people over 18, defines the games as based on skill rather than chance, and bans athletes from playing.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled in December that the games are gambling and, therefore, illegal. Both companies have sued over the ruling.

Zalewski says making fantasy sports betting legal will benefit not only FanDuel and DraftKings, but also dozens of smaller businesses in the industry. These include SideLeague, a company based in Chicago, Stats Inc., a Northbrook-based data analytics company, and Dream 11, a Naperville fantasy cricket operation.

"The governor has said he wants this state to have a pro-growth economy," Zalewski said. "If you're for small-business growth, you should be embracing a new technology that people enjoy and is funneling opportunities for small businesses in Illinois."

Anita Bedell, director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, sees it differently.

"The attorney general has ruled that it's illegal," she said. "(Legislators) should not be rushed to change the law before the lawsuit is settled."

Hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents play fantasy sports daily, said Peter Schoenke, head of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which supports legislation to legalize it in Illinois and other states, including Massachusetts, Virginia and Arizona.

In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey who drafted legislation that would make the minimum age for fantasy sports gambling 21, limit the amount players can spend monthly and ban contests for college sports.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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