Rozner: Will Illinois be ready for legal sports betting?

Updated 2/25/2018 6:28 AM

Illinois lawmakers really believe you are too dumb to notice.

There can be no other explanation for the consistent way in which they raise taxes, kill jobs and drive residents to any state where the weather is better and state government less comical.


They really think you don't know that it's all about who gets theirs -- and who doesn't.

Witness the way in which they have denied slots to the race tracks for the last couple decades, even when there were bills sitting on the governor's desk that would have saved a billion-dollar industry.

Instead, the owners, stables, trainers and horses -- that once made Illinois horse racing among the best in the country -- have fled for neighboring states where the purses are better -- because of slots -- and the quality of racing so much stronger.

Expanded gambling is dangerous, we are told over and over again, and slots at the tracks represent a hazardous escalation.

It's as if they want us to believe Al Capone is going to swoop in and threaten the senior citizens playing Wheel of Fortune.

Oh, but wait. It's OK for slots to move in to your local gas station, corner market, Chinese restaurant, or pizza place.

There is, of course, the lottery, fantasy sports, casinos and horse racing itself. You can't be a little bit pregnant any more than you can say that existing gambling is not the same as expanded gambling.

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But Arlington Park, which has had regulated, taxed and supervised gambling for nearly 90 years -- give or take a few years when it was closed -- can't have slot machines?

Nothing screams Illinois more than that.

So buckle up because the Supreme Court will decide -- maybe as soon as next week -- on whether states can legalize gambling on athletic events.

New Jersey is challenging the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that prohibited state-authorized sports gambling in all but four states, with Nevada the only state currently allowing single-game wagering.

The NBA and MLB are lobbying for a 1 percent rake -- take, if you're less skeptical -- of sports book revenue, which really amounts to about a 20 percent capture, or more than a billion a year for the leagues.


The fact that they've gone from "sports gambling is evil" to "give us a percentage" tells you all you need to know about how the Supremes are about to rule.

About $150 billion is bet annually off shore and underground, money spent that government could have been taxing and regulating all this time. The NCAA Tournament will produce $10 billion in illegal wagering on its own next month.

Which brings us back to Illinois and Arlington Park, which has had regulated gambling since 1927.

Many states will be up and running with sports gambling within a year of the Supreme Court ruling, cashing in to the tune of about $100 million in revenue each year for state coffers.

Of course, Illinois doesn't get anything done quickly and rarely gets it right.

Arlington Park would be right. It has the facilities, the space and the infrastructure in place to host a Vegas-style sports book.

Given the history, the state will undoubtedly look for ways to exclude the race tracks when it happens.

This is, after all, Illinois.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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