Rozner: Can Illinois get sports gambling right?

There is much to ponder now that the Supreme Court has struck down a federal law prohibiting gambling on sports in most states, a decision that's been expected since December.

To borrow from Hedley Lamarr, my mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.


The State Where Nothing Works will almost certainly butcher the opportunity to create instant revenue.

Never mind all the gambling bills in the past that could have saved Illinois racetracks, the ones that either didn't pass or were vetoed by the previous governor.

Illinois should have had a bill ready Monday that allowed for casinos at race tracks with a full sports betting parlor.

New Jersey has its bill and Monmouth Park - a New Jersey racetrack - plans to have sports betting within two weeks. It will probably be two decades before Illinois takes advantage of the revenue opportunity.

Even then, will Arlington Park have the opportunity to put in a Caesars Palace-style sports book? The local oval has the space, the perfect facility and has had regulated gambling since 1927.

Can Illinois finally get this right?


Hundreds of billions are bet offshore and with the local bookie every year in America, money that could have been providing bankrupt states with much-needed revenue.

Gamblers are accustomed to the 10 percent "juice" - bet $11 to try to win $10 - but if states gouge them with extra taxes, they will continue to bet illegally and the revenue opportunity will be lost.


All of the professional sports leagues have railed against gambling forever, which is particularly hysterical for the NFL, which would not exist without gambling.

But wait for it. Now that states have the opportunity to add sports gambling, the leagues are asking for their portion and intend to promote wagering as they have fantasy gambling for years.

They will ask for a percent of the take - a laughable "integrity tax" - and that could boost the tax on a wager to near 20 percent.

Again, if that happens the wagers will revert to the guy on the corner or to offshore sites where the "vig" is the traditional 10 percent.

According to CNBC, this has already happened with marijuana in some states, where the taxes are so high that some who partake are back to buying from the corner dealer.

The irony

New Jersey spent nearly $9 million in legal fees as it tried to get the law overturned, and those battling the state included all the sports leagues that will now try to extract money from the states.

"The same leagues that forced New Jersey to spend millions to overcome their opposition to sports betting are going to get millions from the New Jersey treasury when we beat them in court?" asked former New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak, when speaking recently to the New York Post. "I'm from New Jersey and I have a problem with that."



Don't believe any league commissioner who pretends he doesn't want this to happen. They want this to happen.

Gambling creates more interest in their games and drives ratings and revenue.

They are also desperate to get a piece of the action, which will take money out of your pocket.

Go figure.


If it's done right, you'll be able to place bets on your phone or online from anywhere, including in the stadium in which you're watching a game.

It's actually perfect for creating more interest at a baseball or football game, where there is plenty of time between plays to get in on the action.


There are many countries around the world where fans can walk down to the local equivalent of their Walgreens or CVS and place wagers easily.

As usual, regulation has us far behind the times here in the States.

The fear

The league commissioners will undoubtedly talk from both sides of their mouth on this, trying to pick your pocket to get their share of the profits while at the same time crying about corruption and danger.

Very wealthy professional athletes are very unlikely to throw games. It's not 1919. But if they do they will be caught and banned for life.

So any amount worth betting for them would require risk in the tens of millions, which would obviously move a line and get them caught.

The fear that college athletes will be tempted is legitimate, but that has always been there online and in Vegas, and doesn't escalate because of this. Besides, the NCAA can solve that by making certain players don't have to live like paupers while in college.

As for catching them, scandals have been exposed in the past because regulators in Nevada have noticed unusual activity and bizarre line movements.

The claim is that legalized gambling creates more opportunity for cheating. It's the opposite. Legalized gambling itself offers the perfect opportunity to monitor wagering better than ever.

If something is askew, systems are in place to recognize them immediately.

Hold your breath

Anyone skeptical that your elected officials will get this right is probably taking the correct approach.

What's next?

Based on reporting from the last several months, approximately 20 states will be ready to go in short order, and 32 states in total may be up and running within five years.

If you live in Illinois, the question you should be asking is, why isn't Illinois ready to go right now, when we've known for five months that this would happen, and for years that it might happen?

The answer, of course, is this is Illinois, The State Where Nothing Works.

• 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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