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Thursday, May 24, 2018 12:08 am

Sports betting bills bolstered by Supreme Court ruling

 The Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowing state-authorized sports gambling may strengthen legislation to legalize sports betting in Illinois.

On May 14, the court ruled 6-3 that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1992 to prohibit statewide sports gambling, violated states’ rights.

The decision coincides with three current measures introduced in the state Senate -- the Sports Betting Consumer Protection Act, the Sports Wagering Act and a revised version of the Horse Racing Act of 1975, which proposes to standardize sports betting in Illinois.

Introduced by Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, the Consumer Protection Act would sanction a state agency to oversee sports betting and electronic sports betting across the state. The Sports Wagering Act, filed by Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, would institute licensing fees for “sports wagering platforms.”

Finally, the amended Horse Racing Act introduced by Sen. William Brady, R-Bloomington, requires the Illinois Racing Board to “regulate sports betting at racetracks and off-track betting locations.” Currently, the consumer protection bill is in the Gaming committee, while the sports wagering and horse racing bills are in the Assignments committee.

Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, chairperson of the General Assembly Gaming Committee and the chief sponsor of the consumer protection bill, anticipated the outcome of the ruling.

“I don’t think anybody was surprised by the Supreme Court decision,” Stadelman said in an interview. “We were expecting it, that’s why you saw several bills that had been introduced in the General Assembly and in the Senate, including mine. People were anticipating this, and now that it’s finally come down, I think it will soon accelerate the process of trying to finalize legislation, and find more details as to what sports betting will look like in Illinois.”

The Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems (ILCAAAP), a nonprofit organization committed to combating issues caused by drugs, alcohol and gambling, opposed the bills during the Senate committee hearings on sports betting last month. In an interview, Anita Bedell, ILCAAAP director, criticized the Supreme Court’s decision. “We believe that there’s so much gambling, and enabling states to put it on the internet for sporting is going to have very negative ramifications nationwide,” she said.

Bedell said the legislation could make future addicts out of prospective, young gamblers. “Internet sports gambling appeals to young people, as they can place bets over their phones not only on the outcome of a game, but during the contest,” she said. “When you make gambling accessible on a 24-hour basis, this fuels addictions. Young people can now gamble from home, they can gamble from their computers and they can gamble on their phones. There’s just no way to know what they’re doing, so they’re going to get in trouble with it, and then have a difficult time to get out of it.”

While Stadelman acknowledges ILCAAP’s unease, he mentioned that sports gambling in the state currently persists nonetheless. “We always listen to what the ILCAAP has to say. We think they bring legitimate concerns as they always do when it comes to any gaming expansion,” he said. “Something I will say though is that people are betting on sports anyway right now. It’s an estimated $150 billion bet on sports every year in this country, and a good chunk of it’s in Illinois, so it’s happening already.”

Stadelman said current legislation is needed to control sports gambling in a way to ensure safety for bettors. “What potential legislation would do is regulate it, offer consumer protection to protect those who use their money to entertain themselves this way and still collect some state revenue,” he said.

When asked when the state could see legalized sports betting, Stadelman was realistic. “To have something pass through the chambers and on the governor’s desk in the next two weeks I think is a tall task, probably unrealistic,” he said. “My guess is it will be negotiated and discussed in the months ahead.”

Bedell says ILCAAAP will be doubling its efforts to convince the public and lawmakers to stop the bills from progressing throughout the General Assembly. “We sent out an alert on May 15 asking people to call their lawmakers, especially when they try to pass something very quickly like they did with the Video Gaming Act. That was passed within 24 hours,” she said. “This is a huge issue, especially with a few weeks left in the session, because gambling supporters overestimate the amount revenue and they fail to consider any of the costs, such as addiction, bankruptcy, crime and family problems.”

Alex Camp is a master’s degree graduate in Public Affairs Reporting from University of Illinois Springfield. He is currently a freelance journalist. Contact him at acamp4@uis.edu.

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