With only four days left in the Illinois legislative session, some lawmakers say they are ready to move forward with a gambling expansion proposal. But many others have pressing questions about diversity and business opportunities — one of several issues left to be worked out before the end of session May 31.
One issue concerning some lawmakers is the opportunity for women, veterans, people with disabilities and people of color to get into the casino and sports gambling business.
State Sen. Emil Jones III, a Democrat from Chicago, and about a dozen other lawmakers sent Gov. J.B. Pritzker and legislative leaders a letter last week urging them to consider minority businesses and their involvement in the sports betting and gaming industries.
“Why is there nothing in the sports betting or gaming expansion legislation mandating that minorities must be included or offered a role in ownership or control of licenses or applicants?” The letter read. “Where are the provisions for supplier and vendor diversity? Are we missing something?”
In the letter, lawmakers said they would not sign a proposal to legalize sports betting or add more casinos without guarantees to get more minorities involved.
State Rep. Bob Rita, a Democrat from Blue Island, who has been leading casino expansion negotiations, said that has been taken into consideration.
“Working through all of the different issues, we’ve always had language that pertain to the minority participation, from day one in whatever versions we have been filing throughout the years,” he said.
Sen. Jones was not available to further comment on the letter Monday afternoon.
One sports wagering proposal would have the Illinois Gaming Board work with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to do outreach with minority-owned businesses about opportunities to get involved in the industry, among other provisions. The Gaming Board would also help lead a study at the end of 2019 to determine other diversity needs in the industry.
But that provision is still just a proposal. Final language has not been filed and stakeholders are wondering if there is enough time in the week to iron out all pending issues, which includes a feud between two industry giants, casino owner Neil Bluhm and daily sports fantasy provider FanDuel.
Rep. Rita said he’s optimistic a gambling expansion measure will move through by the end of the week —especially if both, sports wagering and casino expansion, are bundled into one.
“This packaged together, I think it’s going to be a great thing for the state – we just have to work through some of these issues and we have enough time to do that, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
If approved, several cities across the state, including Chicago, could get a casino. Money from more casinos is expected to go toward construction projects, like roads and bridges.