Illinois is probably a state that’s going to be thinking about legalizing online casinos for a long time. Many state residents would welcome them. There’s an established online sports betting industry in the state, and many companies involved with online gaming have a retail presence there. Until Illinois online casinos become a reality, the state’s name will continue coming up in the conversation.
Unfortunately, conversation is all we’re likely to get at the moment. A very promising-looking bill called the Internet Gaming Act (IGA) appeared in the legislature in 2021, the year after online sports betting launched. Almost three years later, there has been very little movement. Two similar proposals will already be on the table at the start of the 2024 legislative session. However, unless there has been a political shift behind the scenes, their chances will be about as slim as they were coming into 2023.
What Happened to the 2023 IL Online Casino Effort?
The original IGA was a bicameral effort. State Reps. Robert Rita and Jonathan Carroll introduced a bill in the House, while state Sen. Cristina Castro championed an equivalent piece of legislation in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Illinois General Assembly follows a two-year cycle. So even though the IGA stalled in 2021, it remained on the table in 2022.
However, 2023 marked the beginning of a new session. So legislation had to be reintroduced. Rep. Rita didn’t involve himself this time around, but Rep. Carroll sponsored a new bill with the same text as the 2021-2022 IGA.
Another House Democrat, Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., had beaten Carroll to the punch by one week. His HB 2239, also titled the Internet Gaming Act, was similar in many ways, but proposed a higher tax rate, lower license fee, and removed the original IGA’s controversial in-person registration window.
Sen. Castro joined the effort once again, with a Senate bill identical to Gonzalez’s. The changes in their version of the IGA would likely make for a more competitive market and more state revenue in the long term. By the same token, this version might be less appealing to established industry stakeholders hoping for lower taxes and less competition.
There were some early signs of hope, with the Gonzalez bill making it as far as the House Gaming Committee before being sent back to the Rules Committee to be mothballed. Still, Gonzalez told Bonus he thinks it’s a matter of when, not whether, for Illinois online casinos. And if the goal was to spark discussion, the 2023 effort managed to garner enough attention to have amendments proposed, such as a prohibition on “bad actors” from obtaining state licenses.
What to Expect From Illinois in 2024
Just as the 2021 IGA remained in play in 2022, the 2023 bills will all still be active legislation when the 2024 Legislative Session begins in January. Rep. Gonzalez has told Bonus that he doesn’t expect to make any changes to his bill in the coming session.
He believes and hopes that it can make it as far as a Committee discussion. However, he chose his words carefully when it came to its chances of actually passing:
I remain optimistic but unsure of the timeline — this bill will probably take some more time to digest.
In the past, Sen. Castro has similarly spoken of the need for more time to educate her fellow lawmakers about online casinos.
There hasn’t been much in the way of official, public opposition to online casinos in Illinois. To an outside observer, the reasons these efforts haven’t gained traction may seem mysterious. However, the most stubborn resistance to any such legislation usually comes from existing gambling interests. The widespread consensus of online gambling analysts is that in Illinois, the big sticking point is video gaming terminal (VGT) revenue.
VGTs in Illinois have become big money-makers for small businesses in the municipalities that have authorized them. However, they’re already feeling the pressure of recent retail casino expansion and their own oversaturation of the market. Meanwhile, they have more to fear from online casinos than do the big retail casino resorts. VGTs and iGaming both emphasize convenient access and low minimum wagers, whereas retail casinos are more expensive but offer a more comprehensive entertainment experience.
Key Figures in 2024
Gov. J.B. Pritzker: The governor hasn’t said much about the online casino proposal one way or another. However, the pace of gambling expansion and modernization during his administration has been rapid. It’s probably safe to assume that he will sign any version of the Internet Gaming Act that finds its way to his desk, but overt support before that point is less likely. On Dec. 8, his office released a list of 17 bills he’d signed into law with no comment, and a gaming law was among them.
Internet Gaming Act Opinions
Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr.: Of the 2023 sponsors, Gonzalez was the most in the public eye. That’s likely to continue in 2024. He’ll be leading the discussion and whatever news we get about the bill’s chances is likely to come from him first.
Sen. Cristina Castro: From the start, House sponsors of the IGA have been the more vocal, and those bills have made slightly more progress through the procedural steps. Sen. Castro has been reliably present on the Senate side and presumably speaking with her peers behind the scenes. However, if past years are any indication, we won’t see as much public commentary coming out of the Senate as we will from the House.
House Majority Leader Robyn Gabel: The leader of the Democrat-majority House of Representatives has consistently voted in favor of past gambling expansion efforts. Her support could be key if the IGA makes it out of committee and earns the chance for a floor vote.
Possible IGA Critics
Rep. Jonathan Carroll: Compared to the newer IGA, the original text that Carroll endorses is primarily beneficial to the state’s retail operators. Those include Rush Street Gaming (RSI), which owns Rivers Casino Des Plaines, adjacent to Carroll’s district, and which has been notoriously hostile to younger, online-first companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. He’ll likely be a part of any discussions. Inferentially, we might guess that he’ll be advocating for compromises to earn the support of retail operators.
House Minority Leader Tony McCombie: Rep. Gabel’s Republican counterpart has traditionally been on the opposite side of gambling issues. She was one of 27 votes against the 2019 bill authorizing new retail casinos in the state, making it unlikely that she’d support an online casino bill. That, in turn, would make it harder for any other Republicans to cross the aisle (Gonzalez, Carroll, and Castro are all Democrats). Assuming no Republican support, the IGA would need nearly 80% support among Democrat Representatives to pass a floor vote, so McCombie could become a significant obstacle if the bill progresses.
More States to Watch in 2024
Bonus News Managing Editor Alex Weldon created several forecasts for States to Watch in 2024.
Check out the other installments:
- States to Watch in 2024: New York — Will a $1 Billion Promise Sway the Naysayers?
- States to Watch in 2024: New Hampshire — Another iGaming Monopoly in the Making? *
- States to Watch in 2024: Maryland — Is an Online Casino Referendum on the Horizon?
- States to Watch in 2024: Rhode Island — How Much Will Bally’s Monopoly Be Worth?
- States to Watch in 2024: Iowa — Time to Stop Flying Under the Radar?