Efforts to get sports betting operational in Illinois appear likely to fall short of being ready for the Super Bowl. But Prairie State bettors don’t need to fret, because some politicians there believe it’ll be ready for another heavily wagered-on sports tradition: the NCAA Tournament, also known as “March Madness.”
Sports betting was approved as part of broader gaming expansion legislation ratified in the sixth-largest state earlier this year. Since then, the Illinois sports betting has been a cluster of speculation, but not much action.
I’m starting to get a little more cautious in saying that if we could have someone placing a bet on March Madness, that would be great,” said State Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, in a Monday interview with The Center Square.
The legislator acknowledged he had hoped sports betting could be ready in advance of Super Bowl LIV, the 54th rendition of the most wagered-on sporting event in the US. But that time line doesn’t look feasible now. The game is scheduled for Feb. 2 in Miami.
The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has said it will begin taking permit applications at some point this month from casinos, horse racetracks, and professional sports arenas that wish to offer sports wagering. But an official start date on that process hasn’t been revealed, nor has a time frame for when the first legal sports bet in the state will be placed.
Illinois is among the 19 states and Washington, D.C. that have approved sports betting. Thirteen, including Prairie State neighbors Indiana and Iowa, are operational. As is the case in every state that takes up the debate, the Land of Lincoln has its share of sports wagering detractors and supporters.
Illinois does not need more gambling of any kind. Gambling already takes millions of dollars out of our state and local economies,” said one respondent to the IGB’s public comment forum. “Money that most of those individuals wagering cannot afford and money that our local businesses and families need. Stop adding more gambling to a state that is already foundering.”
Policymakers in the state sold increased wagering options, including sports betting, as a way of shoring up shoddy finances. Over the past decade, just two states – Illinois and West Virginia – have bled population, and the Prairie State is viewed as one of the least financially healthy in the country due to budget shortfalls and bloated public employee pensions.
While sports betting is unlikely to cure all the state’s fiscal woes, it has its supporters there.
“Don’t try and reinvent the wheel, ask the experts out in Vegas how to run a sportsbook,” said one supporter. “I’ve been waiting my whole life to make wagers LOCALLY instead of wiring my money to some organized crime family in Central America.”
IGB’s comment period ended in late September.
All About Timing
Zalewski is hopeful IGB can pass sports betting rules on Dec. 17, but that probably won’t leave enough time to get wagering up and running by the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. That means Illinois would miss out on a sizable chunk of revenue.
It’s estimated that nearly $6 billion was wagered on Super Bowl 53, with only a small amount of that being legitimate bets. The legal number is likely to increase for Super Bowl 54 because more states are permitting sports betting.
Still, there’s motivation for Illinois to get sports wagering ready for the NCAA Tournament, because Americans bet $8.5 billion on that event earlier this year.