Illinois Legislature Fast-Tracks Bill Prohibiting Wagering on Family Amusements

Illinois lawmakers have amended an existing bill to include an act to ban arcades from facilitating wagers on amusement games after initially missing the deadline for new legislation. This last-ditch maneuver to piggyback the Family Amusement Wagering Prohibition Act (FAWPA) on other legislation could make Illinois the first state to take a stand against the ‘betification’ of arcade-style entertainment.

On April 30, Lucra Sports announced a partnership with Dave & Buster’s to provide the latter’s customers with a “fully immersive” gaming experience. According to the release, the partners would combine “the sports arena and the arcade” by embedding Lucra’s proprietary software into Dave & Buster’s app. Using the app, loyalty members will then be able to digitally compete to “earn rewards and unlock exclusive perks while competing with friends.”

Almost immediately, Illinois House Gaming Committee Chairman Dan Didech filed HB5382, a bill prohibiting family amusement establishments from facilitating wagers on their games. However, Didech introduced FAWPA after the filing deadline had passed.

Last week, to bypass the procedural block, the gaming committee voted 15-0 to amend HB5382’s language into HB394, a bill that, on its own, would have only made a technical change to Illinois’ Horse Racing Act. Further, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has since submitted a witness slip supporting the legislation.

Now, thanks to the uncloaked Trojan horse, Illinois lawmakers have an opportunity to pass the Act before the legislative session ends on May 24.

While Ohio and Pennsylvania gaming commissions have also scrutinized Lucra’s troubling partnership announcement, neither has taken any preventative action. If the effort prevails, Illinois will be the first to establish the legal boundary.

Lucra’s Social Sports App Stokes Additional Fears

During Thursday’s meeting, Didech, who replaced Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch as HB394’s chief sponsor, explained the committee’s strong reaction to Dave & Buster’s proposal.

From those comments, Illinois legislators appear primarily concerned with public safety, and the intention to allow 18-year-olds to play, while the legal gambling age in Illinois is 21, as in most states. Didech also raised a lack of protections or help for problem gambling and the normalization of gambling for youth.

Finally, he named integrity issues and possible negative impacts on licensed operators and state tax revenues as additional concerns.

The choice of technology partner may be part of the problem for Dave & Buster’s. Part of what Didech’s objections appear to stem from his observations of what Lucra is doing in-house with its platform. In addition to providing white-label gamification software to clients like Dave & Buster’s, the company runs a branded social gaming app.

There, Lucra facilitates pick-’em-style prop betting similar to daily fantasy sports (DFS). The principal difference is that players compete against one another, not the house.

As legal battles have illustrated, US lawmakers and regulators share concern over the proliferation of products that resemble sportsbooks but aren’t regulated as such, like Fliff and PrizePicks. Although Lucra is peer-to-peer, it falls into a similar category.

Ultimately, what Lucra’s Dave & Buster’s integration would look like remains unclear, but Didech said his experience downloading the Lucra app gave him pause.

I think [it] raises some very serious questions about how this is going to be applied in a local arcade environment. It’s not necessarily just going to be me and you having friendly wagers against each other. It could be a third party playing the game and then you have some sort of syndicate offering lines on how the third party is going to perform.

There may well have been additional objections to Dave & Buster’s gamification plan. But Lucra’s handling of its in-house app seems to have prompted additional slippery-slope fears for Illinois lawmakers.

HB394 Could Pass This Week

During Thursday’s hearing, Didech said he’s working on a complimentary amendment to ensure the prohibition functions as intended.

Bars oftentimes have Golden Tee tournaments, billiards tournaments, darts tournaments. We’re not trying to ban those sorts of contests, and we are going to refine the language to make sure we’re not accidentally prohibiting those types of contests.

Following up with PlayUSA’s Matthew Kredell, Didech said he expects the bill’s language to evolve before its final passage.

We will continue to work with all stakeholders to refine the legislation’s language as the session progresses, with the goal of passing the bill into law… My intention is that we will see slightly different language on this bill before it is voted on by the full House.

If the Illinois House approves the bill this week, it still needs to pass the Senate and receive the governor’s signature to become law.

Bonus.com and Play USA are part of the Catena Media network.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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