Illinois Lawmakers Mull Remote Registration and In-State College Wagering in Sports Betting Debate

  • Legislators debated gambling issues during a House committee meeting on Wednesday
  • Rep. Mike Zalewski proposed in-state college wagering but faced University opposition
  • A William Hill exec argued against in-person registration, only recently enforced in Illinois
  • He noted the popularity of mobile, but the committee chair backed existing legislation
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Illinois lawmakers mulled changes to sports betting law during a hearing this week, which included proposals of remote registration and in-state college wagering. [Image:]

A day of heated discussions

Illinois sports betting launched for the first time just over a year ago, with online sportsbooks taking their first bets just a few months later. Now, legislators are considering various changes to the state’s gambling law which could have a significant impact on that market.

Rep. Michael Zalewski proposed removing a prohibition on betting on in-state colleges

During the House Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Michael Zalewski proposed removing a prohibition on betting on in-state colleges. He argued that Illinois residents either travel to neighboring states or use offshore sportsbooks to wager on in-state teams.

Meanwhile, the issue of in-person sportsbook registration also caused some debate. Trevor Hayes, head of government relations for William Hill, proposed removing the requirement. He noted the increased popularity of mobile wagering, which he said currently accounts for 75% of William Hill wagers.

Zalewski makes his case

A line in Section 25.25.d of Illinois sports betting law currently bans any sportsbook from accepting wagers on events involving a collegiate team based in the state. This makes the Illinois market more restrictive than that of neighboring states Indiana and Iowa, which currently have no such prohibition in place.

In February this year, Zalewski sought to change this by re-filing HB 849. The representative used Wednesday’s hearing to state his case for the bill, which aims to remove the ban on in-state college wagering.

the ban currently limits the Illinois market by up to 15%

The legislator’s argument revolved mainly around creating a competitive market. “We have a provision that doesn’t do what it was meant to do, and we have a smaller marketplace as a result,” Zalewski commented. John Pappas, a spokesperson for iDEA Growth, supported this by arguing that the ban currently limits the Illinois market by up to 15%.

In opposition, Josh Whitman, athletic director of the University of Illinois, remarked that the ban helps protect collegiate athletes from negative messages online. To counter this, Zalewski noted an amendment in his bill allowing colleges to petition against wagering on a specific team to protect students.

Hayes wants to go remote

Illinois is one of only two states which require bettors to register at brick-and-mortar casinos before wagering through an online sportsbook. However, the pandemic caused Governor J.B. Pritzker to suspend this requirement until recently. He decided not to extend this suspension any further on April 2, limiting bettors to in-person sign-ups for the foreseeable future.

There is no need to have the people in Illinois drive to registration”

During Wednesday’s meeting, William Hill executive Hayes argued that the geographic spread of Illinois means bettors have to travel long distances to reach casinos. He said that the popularity of online betting makes this requirement counterproductive. “There is no need to have the people in Illinois drive to registration,” he said. “Nationally, we see 75%-plus of our bets are made on mobile devices and in many states, as much as 90%.”

A number of representatives defended the in-person requirement in response, including committee chair Rep. Robert Rita. He argued that the 18-month in-person sign-up period will help support the state’s existing land-based casino industry.

As of yet, there is no evidence as to how in-person registration might impact Illinois sports betting, with April being the first month in which the requirement is in full effect. However, since its launch in March last year, the market has gone from strength to strength. In February, Illinois’ all-time sports betting handle reached $2.98bn, with revenue totaling $208.8m.

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