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Sports Betting Arrives In Illinois


Legalized sports betting will soon come to Illinois as part of the state's new gambling expansion law.

Sports wagering is nothing new. But in the U.S., the practice has generally been illegal outside of a few specific venues. That changed last year when the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It allows states to legalize sports betting.

In Illinois, there are several companies eager to enter the market. But casinos lobbied hard against allowing them unfettered access. State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) explains.

"If we let those current online sports international companies to have 90% of the market share already,  if they got in right away, it would pretty much keep all the casinos out," he said.

For the first eighteen months or so of legalization, interested residents will have to register with a nearby casino. The venue can already be operating or be a temporary site awaiting approval under the new law, such as the project in Rockford. But the only geographic limit is that gamblers place their bets in Illinois. 

Credit senatordavesyverson.com
Illinois State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-District 35) supported much of the legislation behind the state's expanded gambling.

"You'll be able to do your sports betting either at the site itself, like you do in Vegas. You can go there and do your sports betting, or you'll have an app on your phone that you'll be able to do your sports betting (on) as well," he said.

After two years, the market will open to other firms. Revenue the casinos earn from sports gambling will be split with local municipalities under existing agreements. But, Syverson says, in states where this betting is already legal -- such as New Jersey -- the revenue stream is low.

"They net 3 to 4 million dollars a month, is all. So it's not like regular casinos where you can be netting a couple hundred million a month," he said.

Despite these smaller margins, lawmakers like Syverson say this type of gambling may appeal to younger players, who aren't as interested in traditional casino fare, such as slot machines.

"Whether it's college to professional sports, they'll be able to get engaged in that through sports betting," he said.

But not everybody is on board with legalizing sports betting. Rev. Steven Bowie is pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rockford. He says there are downsides with expanded gambling.

Credit 3rd Presbyterian Church, Rockford
Rev. Steve Bowie is Pastor for Third Presbyterian Church in Rockford.

"I know that when I'm working with people from the neighborhood who are very modest in their income, a lot of them frequent those places and spend money that could probably be spent -- and it's not my place to judge -- but could be spent much more profitably for them," he said.

But Rev. Bowie can see the appeal of sports betting.

"Everybody's opening their doors because they realize there's an amazing amount of revenue available. If people can bet on whether it's going to be a pass or a run, if people can bet on whether it's a ball or a strike -- I know that culture exists," he said. "I've never been part of it because I've never had joy in it, but I know a lot of people who do."

Rev. Bowie's focus is on educating people about the social costs of gambling, such as the rise in gambling addiction, how families are affected, and how it can combine with other vices such as excessive drinking.

Anita Bedell is executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. The group has an established history of speaking out against legalized gambling. Based in Springfield, she made a trip to Rockford to bring her cautionary view of sports betting.

Credit Chase Cavanaugh
Anita Bedell (center) is Executive Director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems. She was invited to speak to a group in Third Presbyterian Church in Rockford.

"We started on the gambling issue in 1992, when the first casinos started rolling out, because no one was speaking out about the harm and the cost of gambling," she said.

Bedell is unsure about the effects sports betting will have in Illinois. But she says studies in Australia and the United Kingdom point to gambling addiction and suicides.

"People can't get away. They're gambling at work on mobile devices," she said. "They're spending a lot of time, rather than work or time with families, they're gambling. It takes over and consumes them."

Even beyond these considerations, there's the fear sports betting could encourage fixing of games. Sen. Syverson says it hasn't been a problem in other states.

"Every casino we have in Illinois, 24 hours a day, we have state police and Department of Revenue investigators on site watching everything that's going on, monitoring everything that's going on, to make sure everything is above reproach," he said.

Casinos will be the main venues for sports betting for 18-24 months. After that, the law opens up this market to all gambling companies. What effects that will have remains to be seen.

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