Illinois Gov’t Looks At Sports Betting Loopholes

In Illinois, where online gambling and sports betting both increased in legality during the pandemic, politicians are considering what has been overlooked. In early May, discussions among state leaders included consideration of the legality of college sports betting, proxy betting in nearby states, or using unlicensed gambling websites to place wagers. Legislators also spelled out the illegality of sweepstakes machines. This discussion raised many questions, but yielded few concrete answers.

A statue of a lion outside of the Art Institute of Chicago wears a protective face mask.

As COVID-19 restrictions lift, Illinois legislators reconsider their gambling laws. ©Day_Photo/Pixabay

In 2020, Legal Gambling Exponentially Grew

In May, news broke that politicians in Illinois had convened to discuss, among other things, the state of legal sports betting in the state. In the last year, Illinois has dramatically expanded its parameters of legal gambling. In a stroke of fortuitous timing, just as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked lockdowns nationwide, Illinois rolled out sports betting.

By the summer, state Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he would be making an emergency compensation to allow for legal online gambling in the state of Illinois. At the time, Governor Pritzker indicated that this would be a temporary measure, allowing for the state gambling industry to offset losses during lockdown.

The COVID Chronology: How It All Shook Down

Beginning in March 2020, Governor Pritzker matched the decisions of leaders in other US states from New York to California in electing to implement unforgiving measures in the US, what was then known as “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included a curfew and closure of nonessential businesses.

As in many other states, the lockdown lasted for months, and the COVID-19 crisis only got worse. During that time, by the summer, the Governor made his decision to temporarily legalize online gambling, an effort to salvage both the state’s gambling industry and rein in more desperately-needed income from state gambling taxes.

By May 2021, Illinois had been reaching a steady clip rolling out its COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, enough people in the state had been vaccinated that vaccination centers saw numbers of vaccinated individuals drop for the 11th day in a row, a sign that eligible adults in the US were choosing not to get vaccinated, despite its availability.

Still, the rate of COVID-19 positives in the state — as across the US — is falling as the country confidently rolls out its vaccination plan. As such, nonessential businesses have reopened for some time, with people in the country eagerly looking forward to a boisterous and festive return to normal in the summer.

In March 2021, Illinois Sports Betting Out-Earns Pennsylvania

A year after Illinois rolled out sports betting, the state beat out nearby Pennsylvania for third-highest earning state in the country for sports betting. In the month of March, 2021, Illinois bettors wagered $510 million in a single month, knocking out Pennsylvania from its long-held third place.

May 2021: Legislators Consider Oversights

In the spring, state politicians convened to discuss what is currently overlooked in existing legislation in Illinois. Included in their discussions were issues of betting on college sports, and the risks of gamblers betting in neighboring states or via unlicensed websites or machines. Expanding regulation of legal betting apps was also considered.

Should Ban On Betting On College Sports Be Overturned?

One of the big issues considered was whether Illinois should overturn an existing ban on betting on college sports. According to one representative, Mike Zalewski, the law had been implemented at the request of local colleges and universities. The main concern on the part of these institutions is that bettors may contact players and unfairly throw games.

In a statement, Josh Whitman, the athletic director of the University of Illinois, described a situation in which a college athlete lives in the next room over from a student betting on their upcoming game. As a counter-argument, politicians suggested Illinois bettors may travel to nearby states where college betting is legal to illegally bet there.

While some representatives believe this is an unlikely scenario, Representative Zalewski posited an amendment to his bill legalizing college sports betting: if a local university or college has sufficient reason to believe there has been foul play, college sports betting can be suspended for up to six months.

Unlicensed Websites In Illinois Offer College Sports Betting

In another counter-argument, a government liaison from William Hill named Trevor Hayes explained that gamblers in Illinois are already placing wagers on college sports, albeit not through the already-licensed gambling sites in the state, which include DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, PointsBet, and William Hill.

Gambling Apps And Sweepstakes Machines Get Consideration

In response to this statement, Representative Daniel Didech advocated for legalizing and regulating gambling apps. It is not clear if this means that it would make Governor Pritzker’s temporary allowance of online gambling permanent. A spokesman from the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association opposed the suggestion.

According to Dan Clausner from the ILBA, greater access to these apps could hurt revenue from IRL gambling using physical gambling terminals in brick-and-mortars. In his statement, Clausner also described sweepstakes machines, and emphasized that residents of Illinois must know such machines are not legal.

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Downtown Chicago, Illinois at night.

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