Elgin business owner wants Illinois to legalize betting on sports
Elgin business owner Mike Butirro is plenty busy, but in the last few months he's been devoting time to something that at first glance has little to do with running a pizzeria: trying to legalize sports gambling in Illinois.
Butirro has met with U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's office, spoken with state Rep. Anna Moeller and had conversations with officials from the city and Grand Victoria Casino to try to get the wheels turning.
Butirro, the owner of Chooch's Pizzeria in downtown Elgin, said he doesn't gamble and has nothing to gain from the push. He simply believes revenues from sports betting would go a long way to help solve the state's fiscal crisis while bringing an infusion of cash into Elgin via the casino, he said.
"It just makes sense," he said. "We already have gambling in the state, and people are doing it (sports betting) on the Internet and in back alleys, so what's the difference?"
Butirro said his friend Ron Lange, a real estate agent in Elgin, helped him come up with the idea and do research on the topic. "(Sports betting) is no different from blackjack, five-card draw or Texas Hold 'em," Lange said. "It's like adding another table (at the casino)."
Federal law, however, is in the way. Sports betting is legal only in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.
Last fall, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that would allow sports betting at casinos and horse racetracks, but professional sports leagues and the NCAA are trying to stop that with a lawsuit. A federal appeals court is expected to issue a ruling in late June.
There have been other attempts to push sports gambling bills across the country including in Indiana, where the initiative didn't make it past committee before the legislature adjourned in late April.
The point is, Illinois needs to make sure that -- if and when there is a federal green light -- it can jump in quickly, Butirro says.
Duckworth press secretary Anton Becker said the congresswoman is always happy to listen to constituents' ideas.
"We appreciate Mr. Butirro taking the time to meet with our office and look forward to continuing our dialogue about his proposals," he said.
Moeller said she's intrigued but needs to do more research. "I think it would merit looking into, " she said. "We're always looking for different revenue options for the state."
The Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin also has helped facilitate meetings, Butirro said. City officials said for now the issue rests with the state and federal governments.
Grand Victoria Casino would be the ideal location for a sports betting pilot program because it gives back to the community via its charitable foundation, Butirro and Lange said.
"Grand Victoria greatly appreciates Mike Butirro's and the local business community's efforts on our behalf and would welcome the opportunity to enhance our customers' gaming experience with new services and amenities," Casino Advertising Manager Marilou Pilman said.
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie who's among the state's strongest proponents of gambling, said he agrees with Butirro that Illinois should take a look at the issue "in a hurry" if New Jersey wins the federal lawsuit.
"The states that get on top of these kinds of issues are going to create interstate compacts with each other and get ahead of us in this area," he said, adding he hasn't made up his mind about sports betting.
"Will we do some proactive work to get ready? My answer is: 'Probably not.' We can't even pass a simple bill to give Chicago a casino. I don't think we're going to get ahead of the curve."