Robert Rita Introduces Illinois Online Gambling Bill

Illinois Online Gambling Laws 2018

Robert Rita’s bill would legalize sports betting, online poker, online casinos, and daily fantasy sports sites.

Illinois State Rep. Robert Rita introduced an online gambling bill (Senate Bill 7) to the House Gaming Subcommittee. The bill would legalize sports betting, online casinos and poker sites, and daily fantasy sports.

Robert Rita is the chairman of the House Gaming Subcommittee, so the chances are high SB 7 receives approval in the subcommittee. The legislation is a last-minute addition at a time when no one has been talking about Illinois online gambling, so it is unknown what odd’s the bill would have in an House floor vote or in the Illinois Senate.

In fact, not much is known about the bill so far. The House member appears to have introduced a new version of an earlier Senate Bill which would have legalized a land-based casino inside the city limits of Chicago. Other than that, several placeholders were added for Internet gaming, fantasy sports contests, and sports betting.

Senate Bill 7: Online Gambling

In the langauge of the bill, Rep. Rita called for the gaming sections to be left blank for later inclusions. These sections were titled “Fantasy Sports Contest Act”, “Internet Gaming Act”, and “Sports Wagering Act”.

Senate Bill 7 is unlikely to be approved by the end of the early-summer session of the Illinois state legislature. Instead, Robert Rita appears to be laying the groundwork for the online gambling bill in the fall legislative session.

Could Online Gambling Pass Later This Year?

If so, then the chairman of the House Gaming Subcommittee will be pushing for an online gambling bill in the last months and weeks before the 2018 midterm elections in November. At least that is the speculation of prominent gaming media companies. One fact belies that speculation, though — the need to pass an Illinois state budget this week.

Illinois has had perennial troubles passing budget bills during the term of Gov. Bruce Rauner. At the moment, Illinois faces a Thursday or end-of-month deadline for passing a budget to end the 737-day budget stalemate. As Illinois has failed to pass a budget over the past two-plus years, credit rating agencies have downgraded the state’s credit rating.

Illinois Budget Battle

Unlike previous years, the two sides in the negotiations appear serious about making progress. Last year, Gov. Rauner and members of the General Assembly did not meet for negotiations. This time, the two sides are meeting for closed-door negotiations. Two meetings happened last week.

The reason is simple: both face a pivotal November election. Failure to pass a budget could backfire against both Rauner and the Democrats in November, so both sides want to negotiate a good-faith deal — or at least appear to be negotiating in good faith.

Greg Harris Is Optimistic

Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who serves as the chief negotiator for the General Assembly, said of the meetings, “We’re seeing some good progress with all four caucuses working together crafting a budget we hope can pass.”

House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs echoed Greg Harris’s opinion. Durkin termed the meetings as “positive” and “productive”.

Is Illinois Online Gambling Similar to Pennsylvania’s iGaming?

What could be shaping up is a scenario similar to the one which happened last October in Pennsylvania. Just like Illinois, Pennsylvania’s governor and legislative leaders were split down partisan lines. Just like Illinois, the state had gone more than two years without a formal budget. Pennsylvania also faced immediate credit rating reductions.

In those circumstances, Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf worked with Republican lawmakers to pass an omnibus gambling bill. Pennsylvania legalized online gambling, daily fantasy sports, land-based mini-casinos, airport terminal betting, and truck stop gambling machines. Had sports betting been legal at the time, Pennsylvania likely would have passed it in the omnibus gambling bill.

Whether Robert Rita wants to sneak the online gambling bill into this week’s budget to help make up a financial shortfall or whether he is preparing for a major push later in the year, Senate Bill 7 is a surprise to the online gambling legalization crowd. But it’s a welcome surprise.