With the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down a federal law banning states from allowing sports betting, the potential opportunity for new revenue has caught the attention of those in the Illinois gambling industry.
Fairmount Park, the metro-east's horse-racing track, says it would be interested in bringing sports wagering to its facility, but a bill being considered by Illinois lawmakers includes only casinos and online wagering.
The Supreme Court's decision Monday drew the interest of Brian Zander, the president of Fairmount Park, which has been asking for another revenue source in order to help increase purses for races at the park. Without some help this year from the Illinois General Assembly, he says, the track could close for the season in July, instead of the planned closing in September.
“We think (sports betting) would be a great opportunity. Of course the difference, if the race tracks become involved, would be sharing whatever revenue we have from sports gaming with the horsemen in the form of purses,” Zander said.
Fairmount Park wants horse-racing tracks to be included if sports wagering is ultimately legalized in the state.
“You have to start somewhere,” Zander said. “I think all of this is going to be discussed over and over again. If they’re talking about sports wagering and ... horse tracks would not be included, even though we’re the only ones who have been doing it since 1925, then of course that is something we would be opposed to.”
Illinois had already been considering whether to allow sports betting in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision in a case filed by New Jersey. A proposal offered by Illinois state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, that would allow sports betting at Illinois casinos, along with online sports wagering, was assigned on Tuesday to the Gaming Committee, after the Supreme Court's decision.
Harris could not immediately be reached for comment.
"Clearly that’s not going to be the final version of the bill," Zander said. "This is going to go through a lot of iterations."
There are estimates from Deutsche Bank Market Research sports betting in Illinois could be a $681 million annual business, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Harris' proposal would impose a 12.5 percent tax on gross sports wagering revenue and a 1 percent fee that would go to pro sports leagues and the NCAA, both of which, he said, are open to negotiation, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Another proposal, which has been assigned to the Senate's Assignments Committee, would allow sports betting at horse racetracks. A similar bill has been proposed in the House calling for horse tracks to be allowed to have sports betting. It's in the Rules Committee.
Zander said he did not have an estimate on how much Fairmount Park could reap from sports wagering revenue because it ultimately would depend on who is allowed to have the activity. In addition to casinos and horse tracks, people can gamble at video-gaming terminals in places that serve alcohol and truck stops.
Horse tracks have been asking for slots for many years, Zander said.
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, have pushed for legislation that would allow the three horse tracks in the state to each have 150 video gaming terminals at horse race tracks. That bill, if passed, would serve as a temporary bandage if lawmakers don't approve a proposed larger gambling expansion, which would allow for a new casino in Chicago and slot machines at horse tracks.
Zander said he wouldn't be surprised if gaming competitors tried to keep horse tracks from having sports wagering.
"It will be interesting to see how the discussions pan out," Zander said. "We plan to be at the table with our horsemen, and time will tell."
"There are very active discussions in Springfield,” Zander added. “We’ve already talked to several sponsors of sports-betting bills to remind them we are the only ones that are currently allowed to conduct legal wagering on a sporting event, it happens to be horse racing.”
Casino Queen officials could not immediately be reached for comment.