Illinois Senate holds hearing on sports betting legalization

Illinois Senate holds hearing on sports betting legalization

As a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision could lift a federal ban on sports betting, state lawmakers hear testimony on whether Illinois should follow suit.

On the heels of the Villanova Wildcats’ NCAA championship victory, lawmakers in the Illinois Senate convened April 3 to weigh the odds of legalized sports betting in Illinois.

Illinois’ Senate Gaming Committee heard testimony from sports industry heavyweights, gaming lobbyists and ordinary Illinoisans alike, while lawmakers considered prospective taxation and regulation in the event that Springfield moved to legalize sports betting.

The timing of the committee hearing was significant in that it nearly coincided with millions across the country collecting winnings and conceding losses over bets placed on the outcome of March Madness.

Unbeknown to many, however, those bets were placed illegally.

Despite a federal ban on sports betting, Americans gambled in excess of $10 billion on the 2018 March Madness tournament, according to the American Gaming Association, or AGA. Only 3 percent of that, the AGA estimates, was wagered legally.

In 1992, the federal government imposed a nationwide ban on sports betting, but it exempted states where sports betting had already been legalized. The only four states immune from the federal ban are Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.

In spite of this ban, however, a multibillion-dollar black market has flourished, with the AGA identifying $150 billion in illegally gambled monies each year, wagered “through bookies, on illegal offshore websites, or through sports pools like popular March Madness basketball bracket pools.”

Some Illinois lawmakers have come to view this underground market as an untapped reservoir of potential tax revenue. Senate Bill 3432, filed by state Sen. Napoleon Harris III, D-Harvey, would create the Sports Wagering Act, which would ­– in the event of a favorable Supreme Court ruling or a change in federal law ­– legalize sports gambling at licensed gaming facilities and over the internet through interactive sports wagering platforms.

The Illinois News Network reported that Harris said in March, “When you have so many people wagering that type of money, why shouldn’t the government make money [from] it.”

Springfield lawmakers could soon be granted the opportunity to join the four outlier states and bring sports gambling into the legitimate marketplace. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in favor of a lawsuit brought by the state of New Jersey, which would allow states to administer their own sports betting laws.

Including Harris’ proposal, there are at least five bills filed in the General Assembly that would allow sports betting, provided that the federal ban was revoked.

As to the question of whether Springfield will ultimately fall on the side of legalization or continued prohibition: The odds, according to at least one source, favor the former. Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC, a gaming analytics service, forecasted in October 2017 that the Land of Lincoln would pass gaming reform within five years.

In the meantime, Illinoisans will have to wait to see how Springfield would respond to the high court’s ruling. The committee hearing did not yield a vote, indicating that further deliberations will take place before any sports betting proposals graduate from committee, let alone reach the floor.

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