Illinois Committee Discusses In-Person Registration, College Betting

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Various issues including in-person registration and in-state college betting were discussed during Wednesday’s Illinois Executive Committee hearing.

 The state representatives asked the questions regarding the topics as supporters and opponents spoke during the hearing.

The Illinois sports betting could see drastic changes this year as the committee members briefly discussed almost a dozen gaming proposals during the meeting. Besides sports betting, other issues included iGaming, video gaming machines, and horse racing.

Key Details of the Meeting

The General Assembly’s Executive Committee was chaired by state Rep. Bob Rita, one of the key backers of the 2019 capital bill that regulated sports betting in Illinois.

The committee heard fellow lawmakers, lobbyists, and various other stakeholders give positions for and against the bills that could be voted on in Springfield before this session ends in May.

Rep. Mike Zelewski said later that he believes the HB 849 discussion was thoughtful and substantive, and that he would continue to work on it with the hope of passing this session. However, regarding in-person registration, he said, “it remains an ongoing dialogue”. But he hoped it could be phased out over a period of time, while still respecting the investment land-based operators have made into Illinois communities.

In-Person Registration, the Most Contentious Issue

In-person registration requirement remains to be the most contentious issue in Illinois sports betting. Land-based casinos and some key lawmakers are seeking to maintain the original requirement that Gov. JB. Pritzker suspended it last summer, allowing bettors to register online due to the pandemic-led restrictions. That suspension continued almost throughout the last summer until the governor let this lapse earlier this month.

William Hill head of government relations Trevor Hayes and John Pappas, a spokesperson for the gaming industry trade group, proposed removing the in-person registration requirement. Both said the requirement impedes the success of the state’s sports betting industry. Hayes said 75% of wagers at the Caesars-owned company are made online, with many states posting their online handles north of 90% of the total handles.

However, some lawmakers, including the committee chair, Rep. Robert Rita, defended the original legislation that contained an 18-month in-person registration requirement period from the first retail sports betting license was issued to when the first digital-only sports betting license could be submitted to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).

Rita supported the original intent in order to support the land-based locations.

However, ground realities have suggested otherwise as the suspension has helped unprecedented growth in Illinois sports betting. Iowa, the neighboring state, is also a bright example to show the limitations of in-person registration. The Hawkeye State’s January handle soared to $149.5 million, with a 42.7% jump from December’s $104.8 million after the state ended its in-person registration requirement effective January 1.

Betting on Colleges

In February, the state Rep. Michael Zalewski refiled a proposal that would remove a sports betting ban on Illinois colleges. College sports betting has accounted for over 20% of Illinois’ total handle at almost $660 million despite residents not being allowed to place legal bets on football games involving in-state teams.

Last week, IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter revealed the March Madness 2021 betting handle was a whopping $176.8 million, with $14.6 million in sportsbook revenue. It would allow the state to draw $2.1 million in taxes. Those numbers didn’t include one undisclosed operator, which means the handle will swell once the final numbers come.

Zelewski said during the meeting that Illinoisians are already betting on the schools in Illinois, if not through the Illinois sportsbooks, then by crossing the state to Indiana and Iowa to place wagers, or through illegal betting means.

“We have a provision that doesn’t do what it was originally meant to do, and we have a smaller marketplace as a result,” the lawmaker said.

However, University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman opposed Zelewski’s proposal on behalf of the state’s 13 NCAA Division I athletic programs.

He said student-athletes could be vulnerable to undue influence from the peers. He said the prohibition helps protect the mental health of the players by limiting negative online messages.

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