The first glimpse of how Illinois sports fans can begin betting on the Cubs, Bears and other teams is beginning to emerge in Springfield with legislation that would allow wagering at casinos, in convenience stores and even, possibly, over mobile phones.
Bets could focus on the winner of a game, how an individual player performs or even whether the next pitch in a baseball game is a curveball or a slider.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year permitted sports gambling in the states. And Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is banking on the idea to bring in as much as $200 million in the next budget year. In following years, the Pritzker administration estimates the state would rake in between $77 million and $136 million annually from sports betting.
Hearings are expected at the Capitol next week on a package of legislative measures introduced by several House Democrats on Thursday.
Sports franchises also have a seat at the table, with some proposals offering to devote as much as a quarter of a percentage point from each bet to the sports leagues. And the money the state collects could go toward pensions, early-childhood programs and an infrastructure program, according to the lead legislative architect of the package, state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside.
Zalewski, who chairs the House Revenue and Finance Committee, explained what he expects to see in a final package that could be submitted to the governor by late May. An edited transcript of his interview with WBEZ is below.
Where would someone be able to place bets? Could they place a bet from their phones or from video gambling storefronts that are in shopping center storefronts all around the state?
There [are] four ideas. Two of them centered largely around where existing gaming already takes place: casinos, race tracks, OTBs. One of them is a lottery-based approach, where anywhere that a retailer would sell lottery tickets, they could sell sports-betting tickets, for lack of a better way of saying it. And fourth is sort of a hybrid of what the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball want, so it could be all over, basically. There’s even a provision that says it could be Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field or the United Center.
Could someone make a bet on a sporting event over their phone?
I think in any modern economy, we need to consider the mobile approach because I just think that’s where most people are headed. That being said, I think there’s a real concern among my colleagues of overdoing it, sort of overheating it too early. So, we put in one of the models that if you wanted to do it on your phone, you’d have to hew to a bricks and mortar facility, so you’d have to physically still make the effort to go someplace to do it.
Really across the state, there’s been a proliferation of these video-gambling facilities that are showing up in shopping centers and places like that. Are those venues that you would see potential sports wagering done at?
I think you’re going to see different stakeholders come to the table with different ideas, and I don’t think it’s within my own personal purview to rule anything out or anything in. I am very mindful of the dynamic you raise about overproliferation.
You mentioned earlier the involvement, potentially, of the state lottery system. Is this the kind of thing where I could walk into a 7-11, buy a ticket, on this day I think Jon Lester is going to win at Wrigley Field, and the lottery would be responsible for the payout?
That’s one of the ideas. To be honest, that has the opportunity to produce the most upfront revenue for the state.
How old would a person have to be to place a bet?
Up until this point, Chicago hasn’t succeeded in its efforts to land a city casino. The city also has decided against allowing video gambling. How would your proposal treat Chicago?
As it exists, it’s pretty silent on Chicago, and that’s not a reflection of any one thing. Whenever they elect a mayor, whoever she is will probably have a thought on sports gambling.
What effect will all of this have on the prevalence of gambling addiction, and does your proposal earmark any funding to help with addiction treatment?
We’ve heard in the initial rollout of this we don’t do enough on that front. We need to beef up our addiction treatment partners and try to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.
How much money do you envision this making for the state on an annual basis?
The governor has laid out a pretty reasonable initial marker of $200 million. As a year over year question, I don’t think it’s the cure-all to all of our state’s ills. It’s probably in the double million of dollars range — in other words, less than $100 million.
Do you have an idea in your head about where you’d like to see that money spent?
We, in the bill, spread it among three places: pensions, early childhood and capital. Depending on the amount generated by the licensing fees and what we call the adjusted gross revenues, a third of it would go to the state’s annual pension payment. A third of it would probably go into the general revenue formula that we use to issue our checks to the schools, and a third would go into a capital fund that would be used for capital-related purposes.
The Pritzker administration has used the estimate of about 20 licensees. On the ethics side of things, would there be an express prohibition of public office holders having any stake in any of these licenses?
I think we’re silent on that. I know why you have to ask the question. I do not own a sports book, so you don’t have to worry about me.
Certainly, when the riverboat casino licenses were put out in the late 1980s, early 1990s, there was an issue of people with clout getting in the front door with those things. And in other states, I think Louisiana had an issue with legislators having secret interests in some of the video gambling things there. Do you think there’s a need to deal with the ethics side of this in some way more forcefully?
Yeah, I do. I worry about people feeling like they didn’t get a transparent system out of this. Again, I think we’re going to be diligent in how we ask the Gaming Board to vet these items. To call out any specific provision and say we’re going to do this specifically for this group of individuals, I don’t know. I haven’t been presented language that way by any of my caucus mates. If they did come to me, I’d be happy to take a look at it. I understand the question you raise, and I understand why we have sort of a trust concern on this, and we’ll do our level best to be cognizant of it and try to complete the circle and make sure people realize this is a fair and transparent process.
Let’s talk history for a second. I believe you’re a White Sox fan, right?
So a century ago, you’re familiar with the Black Sox scandal, and members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of helping throw a World Series through a scheme orchestrated by a gambling syndicate. If we open the door in Illinois, what guarantees do we have that games won’t start to be thrown?
You’re right to bring it up, and I think we’re going to try to figure out the league’s place in this. It’s incumbent on them to protect their players. It’s incumbent on them to protect their product.
Explain to me, professional sports owners, what do they get out of this?
They would like what’s referred to as a royalty fee or an integrity fee to ensure the integrity of their product. The way the statute is written, for every bet placed on a professional game, they would get a percentage of the bet.
For those people who have tickets to a Sunday Bears game or a weekend Sox home game, how’s the experience going to change if, when you go to the bar at the stadium, you have the ability to bet on that day’s game?
There are people who think it’ll enhance it. There are people who are going to be negative on it. I think it’s important to know that for a very long time, this activity has happened. It happened 40 years ago in a way that very much was underground. It’s happened recently in online operators who operate on overseas platforms. We’re taking what was a black market and bring it into the open.
We’re at a point in the year when at pretty much every office in the Chicago area, Illinois and the country, there’s some March Madness pool with people working on their brackets and being fixated. How could all of this change that annual tradition of March Madness and what people do in their workplaces?
I didn’t realize until like this morning [Thursday] that we were filing on the first day of the tournament. I don’t know what that says about me as a sports fans.
Who exactly is at the top of your March Madness bracket?
I’d like to see Duke because I’d like to see more of Zion Williamson so the Bulls can hopefully draft him.
So I take it you’re willing to put money on that.
No, I’m not. I’m going to be a chaste sports observer until this process is over.
Dave McKinney covers state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow him @davemckinney.