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Illinois lawmakers: State won't be able to gamble its way to prosperity

Illinois Issues

Wednesday, May 16, 2018  |  Article  |  By Benjamin Yount

Gambling, Gaming Lang, Lou--State House, 16 , Syverson, Dave--State Senate, 35 , Zalewski, Michael--State House, 23
Illinois lawmakers are excited about the promise of legal sports betting in the state, but they also understand the reality. 

The United States Supreme Court on Monday opened the door for legal sports betting in the states when it struck down a 1992 law that banned sports books pretty much anywhere outside of Nevada. 

There's lots of hope in a number of states, but no one has a precise price tag for what legal sports betting in Illinois could be worth. Early estimates suggest regulated sports gambling could bring in between $300 million to $700 million annually, according to media reports. State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie told the Chicago Tribune it was likely to generate less than $100 million a year for state coffers.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Chicago, said Illinois could benefit from traditional sports books or sports betting on the internet, but he said Illinois shouldn't start planning on a massive payday anytime soon.

"It's nice that the court did this because I generally think it makes sense from a policy perspective and I think it generally would help an ailing state treasury," Zalewski said Monday. "But I don't want to get too 'over my skis' and think that something is imminent."

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, who hopes that sports betting will finally help Rockford get a casino, said Illinois has over $100 billion in pension debt and $6.5 billion in unpaid bills. He said more gambling won't erase those costs, or end what he calls Illinois' "spending problem."

"There is no magic bullet. Gaming certainly is not the answer to Illinois' financial problems," Syverson said. "What gaming does do though is keep billions of dollars in Illinois. It could help fund road and capital projects so we don't have to raise other taxes. It helps local communities raise revenue."

Syverson said the high court's decision adds urgency to the gambling debate at the Capitol. He said he hopes the Illinois House will take up the plan from a few years ago that would create six new casinos in the state as the vehicle to legalize sports betting. Syverson said lawmakers could vote on that and send it to the governor by the end of May. 

There is at least one other proposal in the legislature, SB 3432, that deals with sports betting in Illinois. It is waiting for a hearing and a vote in either the Illinois House or Senate.