Though the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for expanded sports gambling in America, it’s no sure thing that Chicago-area bettors will soon be able to wager legally on the Bears, Cubs or any other team.
The justices ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that forbade, with few exceptions, state-authorized sports gambling.
The decision allows Illinois to move ahead with proposals to legalize and tax sports betting, which supporters say would transform a black market industry into one that could produce much-needed revenue.
Lawmakers already have held hearings about how they might legalize sports betting, but it’s unclear whether they can approve legislation by the end of May, when the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn.
On one hand, lawmakers might want as much money as possible for the state budget. But a number of other gambling proposals are floating around the Capitol, including adding new casinos, regulating fantasy sports and placing slot machines at racetracks.
“The odds, excuse the pun, are against passing something by the scheduled adjournment date,” said state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who is drafting legislation to legalize sports betting.
He said sports betting should not be viewed as a “cash cow,” since it’s likely to generate less than $100 million a year for state coffers. By comparison, the state budget this year could face a deficit of billions of dollars.
One proposal backed by Democratic state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former NFL linebacker, would allow casinos to offer betting on professional, amateur or collegiate sporting events and motor races at their bricks-and-mortar locations, as well as on the internet. The online service would be limited to Illinois residents.
To participate, casinos would have to pay a $10,000 licensing fee, and wagers would be taxed at 12.5 percent. Another 1 percent “integrity fee” would be added, which would pay for professional sports leagues to monitor games and ensure they are contested honestly.
Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, said integrity fees are among several thorny issues that will have to be worked out before sports betting can become a reality in Illinois.
“It’s the leagues’ attempt to get some of the pie, but I think they need to convince lawmakers of a need for that fee,” said Stadelman, who chairs the Senate Gaming Committee.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaking at a news conference Monday, did not take a position on sports betting.
“I’ve been clear on gaming: I personally don’t gamble,” he said. “I think that gambling is something that takes money away from folks who can least afford to lose their money.
“That said, people like to gamble; it’s here. I believe in local control. I personally support those communities that would like to see gaming expanded in their communities.”
Illinois casino operators support legalizing sports betting, though they’ve warned against high taxes and fees, saying it would drive up the cost of doing business and prevent them from competing with illegal bookies.
Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said most sports gambling operators earn about 5 percent of the gross bet, so a 1 percent tax would consume 20 percent of their proceeds.
That would allow bookies to undercut the market by having lower expenses and offering better odds and bigger payouts, he said.
Some casinos want to push consideration of sports betting legislation to the fall, he said, giving legislators and advocates more time to research the possible effects of sports gambling and avoid unintended consequences.
As an example, Swoik cited the law that allowed video gambling, originally sold as a way to help existing bars, restaurants and charitable organizations. Instead, he said, 5,000 new businesses have been created — most of them gambling cafes.
Greg Carlin, CEO of Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming, which owns and manages Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, said the company has prepared for the ruling by running an online gambling site in New Jersey, one of only two states where it is legal.
The site doesn’t offer sports gambling but will if it becomes legal.
“The goal is to move business from illegal sports books to a regulated market that’s more transparent and has better protections for consumers,” Carlin said.
Some researchers have predicted that 32 states will allow sports betting within the next five years. Geoff Freeman of the American Gaming Association, which represents the U.S. casino industry, noted that some states have already taken steps to introduce it.
“A critical mass (will) get on board with sports betting faster than you’ve seen any other type of gaming expansion in previous years,” Freeman said.
Not everyone was focused on the bottom line in the aftermath of the court’s decision. Anita Bedell of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, which lobbies against gambling expansion, warned that online sports wagering in particular could have major drawbacks.
“With people having computers and cellphones, if they could bet anywhere 24 hours a day, it would be nonstop gambling,” she said. “We’re very concerned about the human cost of this type of gambling.”
Though legal sports betting is supposed to eliminate the illegal kind, Joseph Lopez, a Chicago attorney who has represented reputed members of the Outfit, predicted that underground bookies will survive.
“There will be deadbeat gamblers — sites won’t take their bets so they’ll turn to the black market,” Lopez said. “I will assume there will always be a need for their services among a certain class of people.”
Chicago Tribune’s Kim Geiger and Bill Lukitsch and The Associated Press contributed.
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