The prospect of Illinois lawmakers passing a comprehensive gaming expansion package got a shot in the arm on Wednesday following a joint hearing in the state House of Representatives. Two subcommittees met to discuss a bill that has been kicking around the statehouse for almost two years.
SB 7 began its life as a Chicago casino bill back in January 2017. The proposal went on to morph into an omnibus gaming expansion package under amendments from Rep. Robert Rita, with online gambling, sports betting and daily fantasy sports added to the mix.
The focus of Wednesday’s hearing was sports betting, with only a few brief detours into land-based and online casino expansion. That said, the four-hour meeting was a net positive for online gambling.
Deciphering legislative hearings
Following the Congressional sports betting hearing in September, many latched on to the closing statements of Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI):
“I think the one thing that all of you agree on is that for Congress to do nothing is the worst possible alternative.
“So this means we have some work to do. And I’m looking forward to working with you to try to come up with something both short-term and something more permanent to deal with this issue. Because I’m afraid if we don’t, there are going to be some people that get hurt — and hurt very badly.”
Like the highly refined witness testimony, though, it was nothing more than standard hearing-speak. As I noted on Twitter, if you want to know how far long along a legislative body is on an issue, pay attention to the types of questions it asks.
Yesterday’s hearing featured lawmakers asking many of the right questions to move forward. For the most part, the discussions were
- Precise, demonstrating a solid understanding of the topic
- Focused on the best practices and policies, rather than theoretical viability
An omnibus bill may garner the most support
Wednesday’s lengthy hearing was probably a little frustrating if you’re an online poker or online casino advocate, as neither topic got much time. One could see that as a good sign, however.
As Rep. Lou Lang said in his opening remarks, online gaming and DFS are already pretty well vetted in Illinois. The inclusion of these two issues coupled with the general apathy adds fuel to the speculation that they’re mostly wrapped up. Sports betting is the issue the legislature really needs to get up to speed on.
Another positive sign for online gaming supporters were the several remarks from witnesses and legislators about keeping all forms of expansion intertwined in a single piece of legislation. As Pala Interactive CEO Jim Ryan told the committees, sports betting will account for 50 percent of online gaming revenue, so, “just legislating sports betting is doing half the job.”
Furthermore, the same type of omnibus approach allowed Pennsylvania to pass a comprehensive gaming reform package last year, and it could be the secret sauce that garners enough legislative momentum — and votes — in Illinois.
The more industries and businesses that would benefit from the bill, the more decision-makers will hop on board. And if their support of one issue outweighs their reservations about another, lawmakers may be more likely to cast their vote for an omnibus expansion.