Place your bets? Illinois preparing for legal sports wagering

Illinois lawmakers are discussing what shape legal sports betting would take in the state if a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision clears the way for the potential multibillion-dollar industry.

Five state senators and representatives have filed bills since January that'll spark the sports wagering conversation in Springfield. Democratic state Sen. Steve Stadelman of Loves Park, chairman of the gaming committee, said he expects public hearings within two months.

"Some of the bigger issues and questions that we'll have to discuss is, obviously, the tax rate," Stadelman said. "What venues would be allowed to have sports betting? For example, casinos, racetracks? Would it be offered online? Would it be offered in a retail environment?"

Nothing can happen, however, unless the Supreme Court issues an opinion in the case Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association striking down a 1992 federal law preventing states other than Nevada from authorizing single-game wagering on professional and college games.

Filed by then New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the suit challenges the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Justices heard arguments in December and are expected to rule by June.

Illinois is one of many states where lawmakers are filing bills in anticipation of the Supreme Court's siding with New Jersey. A state would need a law enabling sports betting if the federal ban were lifted.

States see billions of dollars in potential revenue from sports betting.

Americans typically place $150 billion in illegal bets on U.S. sports annually, according to the American Gaming Association. Last year's NCAA college basketball tournament alone attracted $10.4 billion in wagers - 97 percent made illegally, the gaming association says. Another $58 billion was wagered on NFL and college pigskin action last year, just $2 billion of it legally, according to the group.

Stadelman's bill predicts Illinoisans would bet at least $7 billion per year on sports, based on a projection of $175 billion in annual legal revenue nationwide. He said his bill, which refers to consumer protections for sports gamblers, is a general "placeholder" designed to launch discussion.

"I don't want to be debating a year or two down the road while something's being allowed in other states," Stadelman said. "I don't think that's to our advantage in Illinois.

"It does mean revenue to the state. It's not a panacea for the state. And of course, how much revenue it would bring in depends on the model that you approve."

Illinois House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, is among the state lawmakers who've filed bills this year addressing legal sports betting.

Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, who filed a generic bill calling for sports wagering, said what's at stake is the potential creation of a multibillion-dollar industry. That can't be done hastily, he said. Lang was the architect of a gambling expansion plan to add slot machines at Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights and open five new casinos statewide. It was vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2012.

A final sports betting bill would need to be balanced and avoid helping specific casinos, horse racing tracks or other businesses, Lang said. He envisions many hours of negotiations over locations, possible operators and the regulatory scheme, similar to what happened with the unsuccessful gambling expansion effort.

"What will bring this all together is leadership," Lang said. "And we're not just going to pick a bill and run it."

Opponents also plan to have input on the issue. Among them is Anita Bedell, executive director of the Springfield-based Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.

Bedell's organization is encouraging people to contact state legislators and ask them to oppose sports gambling in Illinois. She's concerned about young men being vulnerable to legal sports wagering online 24 hours a day - her organization has said 66 percent of fantasy sports players are male - along with the potential for underage gamblers using accounts established for someone 21 or older. "Gambling interests overstate how much money the state will get and they never consider the costs," Bedell said.

  Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights could host legal sports betting if also granted a casino, General Manager Tony Petrillo says. But first, the U.S. Supreme Court would have to overturn a federal law banning most sports wagering outside of Nevada. John Starks/, 2017

Officials at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin did not respond to messages seeking comment on sports betting. Arlington International Racecourse General Manager Tony Petrillo said the track would want a casino to go with sports betting.

"If we are treated equally with the casinos and we have slots and table games," Petrillo said, "and then we have sports betting, that's a venture that would be very plausible for this property."

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