As a comeback effort, legislation to enact online gambling in Illinois was utterly forgettable.
In fact, only its most ardent proponents may have recognized there even was a comeback effort.
Illinois has one of the most robust legal gambling landscapes in the United States but iGaming legislative initiatives that were introduced early this year died with barely a whimper when the General Assembly ended its session on May 19.
Illinois Sportsbooks Highlight Thriving Scene
The overall gambling picture in Illinois features 11 traditional commercial casinos that reported $2.14 billion in revenues for 2022, more than a 25% increase year-over-year.
Illinois sports betting has both retail and online components that attracted $9.3 billion in handle in 2022 – with 90% of that action from online wagering. That handle, in turn, generated almost $800 million in revenue.
Then there are thousands of legal video gaming terminals (VGTs) scattered across the state in bars, restaurants, fraternal clubs and other places, which accounted for another $2.7 billion in revenue for the many VGT operators.
Not to be forgotten is the state lottery.
State government and local jurisdictions combined have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money.
And it’s not like modern technology is an issue because Illinois sportsbook promos have helped encourage customers to sign up in droves to place sports wagers.
So What Happened To Online Casino Push?
So we’re left to sort through the dismal fate of iGaming legislation in the Land of Lincoln. The version of gambling known as iGaming (or iCasino) is casino slots and table games played on the internet on a mobile device or computer. So far, only six states have legalized full iGaming: Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Nevada has internet poker only.
In 2021, legislation regarding iGaming was introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives and in the state Senate. Those bills went nowhere. In 2022 Illinois was quiet on iGaming.
In 2023, early in the legislative session, there was a veritable blitz of iGaming legislation, relatively speaking.
Back in February, Rep. Edgar Rodriguez introduced iGaming legislation in the House. Still another piece of legislation was introduced by Rep. Jonathan Carroll. And a Senate version, SB1656 (the Internet Gaming Act), was put forth by state Sen. Cristina Castro, chairwoman of the Senate Executive Committee. That was a near-reprise of a 2021 effort by Castro.
Some of the 2023 iGaming proposals eventually included aggressive responsible gaming measures, such as occasionally flashing messages to online bettors about accessing gambling addiction assistance.
Advantages of Legal, Regulated iGaming
Advocates for iGaming point out the windfall of tax revenue that type of gaming could produce. The experience of larger states with iGaming, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, provides some evidence that iGaming can indeed be lucrative for operators and taxing jurisdictions.
However, every state is different. In New Jersey, for instance, iGaming is tethered to existing casinos and has helped buoy revenues for the current gambling industry.
In Illinois, there is the entrenched VGT industry, which is hardly ready to give up its hold on convenience gambling. While a neighborhood bar with slots-like gambling is certainly convenient, a virtual casino that a person carries in their pocket is even more convenient and a serious threat to VGTs.
And then there’s the fact that the VGT industry has been a reliable producer of tax money. The Illinois VGTs provided the state with nearly $786 million in taxes in 2022 and local jurisdictions with another $135.5 million.
As far as the how the Illinois 2023 iGaming bills fared, in the state House and in the state Senate, their movement through the General Assembly essentially stalled by March. The bills wound up in committees to wither until the legislature ended its session on May 19.
In general, iGaming has faced strong headwinds in state legislatures around the country, so Illinois is hardly alone in failing to advance it. Compared to the six states with legal online casinos, 37 jurisdictions have legalized sports wagering, and in many cases to include online sports wagering such as Illinois sportsbook apps.
In the case of Illinois, the presence of the legal VGT industry would appear to present even greater difficulties in the years ahead for iGaming legislation.