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Illinois Casinos Online and Gaming Laws

Illinois

There’s no shortage of gambling available in Illinois, nor do you have to search far to find someone with an opinion about just how gambling should be handled in the state. From riverboat casinos to online lottery sales, the gaming industry is a major factor here, even playing a key role in the state budget. That role can also cause some problems, however, as the state found out in 2015 when a budget dispute threatened to leave some lottery winners very unhappy.

Online Gaming Has Limited Presence

Unlike many states in the USA, Illinois does currently offer some form of regulated Internet gambling. However, it may not be the kind of site you’re thinking of. While there are online casinos in Illinois, they are not state-regulated. Instead, the lottery offers the ability to buy tickets online, or subscribe to plans where you are consistently sold tickets for certain drawings over time. The program has proven popular, though players must both be located in the state and be residents of Illinois in order buy tickets.

Still, while Internet casinos and poker rooms aren’t regulated or licensed in the state, the issue has come up for discussion in the past. In 2014, the Executive Senate Committee talked about online gambling, and iGaming provisions have been in previous casino expansion bills, even if they did not make it into law.

In the meantime, players in the Land of Lincoln can play on the many overseas sites that offer their real money games to residents of the state. While there is no regulatory framework for them to operate in, they view Illinois as a “grey market,” and there are now laws in the state that criminalize playing on such sites. That means that some operators are happy to allow Illinoisans to take part in slots, table games, and other classic games over the Internet.

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Large State Hosts Many Interests

Virtually every facet of the gambling industry is represented in some way throughout Illinois. Since the early 1900s, the state has hosted a significant number of horse racing tracks, with the Chicago area being particularly enamored with the sport. Then, in 1974, the state approved the Illinois Lottery, which now brings in more than $2 billion per year for the state.

One of the oldest forms of gaming in Illinois, however, is riverboat casinos. These operations first appeared just before the Civil War, and managed to hold on for several decades before disappearing around the turn of the 20th century. But in 1990, the state legislature again passed a bill allowing these floating casinos to return, partly as an effort to compete with Iowa, which had decided to do the same thing there.

That law authorized up to ten boats to earn gaming licenses, and the first ship launched in 1991 in Alton. Other areas, including Aurora, Rock Island, Joliet and East St. Louis would also become home to their own riverboat establishments.

Ultimately, lawmakers realized there was little sense in forcing the venues to be in motion constantly, and in 1999, the boats were given permission to moor permanently and cease cruise activities without any fear of losing their gaming licenses. While efforts to potentially expand to more locations have sputtered, the riverboat industry has become a major part of the landscape.

Another major round of gambling expansion came in 2009 by way of the Video Gaming Act. This law allowed for bars, restaurants, and some other locations to install video gaming terminals in their establishments, potentially bringing casino-style betting to every corner of the state. However, there was an important restriction: these games could only be installed if the local town or city government approved of them, with some towns opting in favor of the machines and others against them. By 2012, licenses began to be awarded for these games, and they have since become a widespread – if sometimes controversial – part of the culture here.

Other efforts to expand the gambling footprint have been beaten back. One measure to add new casinos and allow for slots at the racetracks was vetoed by former Governor Pat Quinn. The measure was requested by track operators for much the same reason that other states have approved “racinos” – the tracks have struggled since newer, more accessible ways to place a bet have increased competition for gamblers’ dollars.

A Murky Future Awaits

At the time of this writing, Illinois is in the midst of a tumultuous budget battle, one that has pit the state’s largely Democratic legislature against new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Of course, there will eventually be a working budget, but what it will look like is anyone’s guess, and how much the potential for expanded gambling will play into that is also unclear.

What is clear is that the battle has already had consequences for the existing gaming industry, and in particular, for the state lottery. With the lack of a budget available to direct funds, the Illinois Lottery couldn’t be sure it had the funds to actually pay out its winners, and starting in October 2015, anyone who won more than $600 was given an IOU rather than their cash. That was actually the second stage in a worsening situation: starting in July, winnings were capped at $25,000.

The plan all along was to have the outstanding prizes paid out after the budget crisis was resolved, of course. However, that did little to ease the nerves of players in the state, and sales of tickets quickly declined as a result of the restrictions. It wasn’t until early December that the Governor and the Legislature were able to reach an agreement to release $1 billion for the lottery, some of which will be used to pay out all of the outstanding winners.

With such an uncertain landscape, it is hard to speculate on the future of iGaming in Illinois. On the one hand, the fact that the state has made any venture at all into the online world is a promising development that suggests they could go further in years to come. However, the overall situation is so murky that it is hard to imagine they will be in the next waves of states to pass regulations for Internet casinos. So for now the best Illinois gambling sites are those hosted by offshore operators.

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