Illinois lawmakers in the state’s House of Representatives held a hearing on gaming expansion on August 22, but during the four-hour session in Chicago, issues like sports betting and iGaming were pushed aside – at least for the time being.

A second hearing is scheduled for October 22 in the state capitol of Springfield, and the potential legalization of sports betting, online gaming, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) will dominate the agenda.

The dual hearings were scheduled back on July 31 by state representative Robert Rita (D-28), who is hoping to guide his sprawling gaming industry expansion bill successfully to passage.

In a tweet issued one day after the first hearing, Rita alluded to his goals for “gaming expansion” in the state:

“Great to join with colleagues yesterday in downtown Chicago in front of a full house for a lengthy public hearing as we try to bring the economic benefits of gaming expansion to Illinois.”

Rita a Longtime Champion of Gaming Expansion

Rita originally introduced Senate Bill 0007 – which would legalize sportsbooks, DFS sites, and online poker rooms and casinos, along with a slew of land-based expansions – in 2017.

SB-0007 survived through the 2018 session, garnering co-sponsorship from a bipartisan coalition consisting of three state representatives and four state senators. The bill has been passed around various legislative committees ever since, including Gaming, Rules, and Executive.

On May 25 – less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada – Rita added an amendment attaching the Sports Wagering Act, the Fantasy Sports Contest Act, and the Internet Gaming Act to SB-0007.

In a press release issued by Rita’s office to announce the gaming expansion hearings the 16-year veteran of the Legislature alluded to the economic benefits regulated sports betting and iGaming can offer forward thinking states:

“As I have said from the beginning in working on this issue, gaming expansion presents many tremendous opportunities to create revenue, jobs and economic growth in Illinois.

The gaming landscape has changed significantly since I took on this issue five years ago, and I want to use these hearings to understand how those changes present new opportunities for us to put the right package together as we look to meet budget needs and provide a spark for our economy.”

During the recent hearing, Tom Swoik – who serves as executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association (ICGA) – echoed those sentiments while appealing to Rita’s colleagues:

“We can reach new, untapped markets with these new forms of gaming.”

And shortly after Rita’s hearing announcement made headlines, Neale Deeley – vice president of sales in the U.S. for Swiss-based sports betting data firm Sportradar – confirmed to Gambling Insider that Illinois would be a lucrative market should legalization occur:

“Just short of 10 million people call Chicagoland home, making it the third biggest metropolitan area in the US. It’s a sports mad town that will certainly embrace legalized betting when it arrives.

As a global company, we are preparing ourselves for markets opening across the world, both big and small.

The U.S. happens to be at the bigger end of the spectrum, so this is a very exciting place to be right now.”

Bill’s Future Tied to November Midterm Elections

Following the upcoming midterm elections in November – which are widely expected to give the Rita and his fellow Democrats a supermajority in the Legislature – lawmakers return for their two-week Fall veto session.

Oddly enough, however, SB-0007 faces better odds of passing in that veto session should the Republicans garner a majority.

A Democratic victory would cause the bill to expire in January, with Rita having to reintroduce it in January when the 2019 session begins. Conversely, a Republican-leaning midterm could allow for a simple majority vote during the November veto session’s “lame duck” window.

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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