Politics & Government

Illinois’ gaming expansion is law. When will we see sports betting, more video gambling?

Just because Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a massive gaming expansion into law, it doesn’t mean people can wager on St. Louis Cardinals games right away.

The Illinois’ gaming expansion is one of the ways the state will help pay for the $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital bill and is planned to go toward projects at state facilities. The gaming expansion legalized sports betting, authorized up to six new casinos, including one in Williamson County, casino-like gaming at horse racetracks, and more video gaming in restaurants, taverns, fraternal organizations and truck stops.

But the gaming board still needs to set up rules for sports betting, review the eventual applications for gaming licenses for the six new casinos and racinos, and oversee the addition of more video gaming terminals.

When the state legalized video gaming terminals as part of the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now! capital plan, it took three years for the machines to get up and running.

The gaming board doesn’t have a timeline for having sports betting established or for when people can expect to see the new casinos and racinos open.

Illinois Gaming Board spokesman Gene O’Shea referred to a statement on the gaming board’s website.

“Governor Pritzker signed the Illinois Gambling Act into law on June 28, 2019,” the statement read. “The Act makes significant changes to gaming law in Illinois. The Illinois Gaming Board is working through these changes and on implementation of the Act. We will share information on the IGB website as the information becomes available. Please check back regularly for updates.”

Sports betting will initially be allowed at casinos, horse racetracks and sports venues that have a seating capacity of more than 17,000 people, and will be allowed to start accepting wagers, once the gaming board issues licenses.

Within a year, the state will be able to choose a vendor to set up sports lottery terminals at up to 2,500 lottery retail locations, as part of a pilot program, according to gaming board documents. Up to an additional 2,500 sports lottery terminals would be allowed to be set up in the second year of the program.

However people can’t wager on collegiate teams in Illinois, minor league teams, or any kindergarten through 12th grade sporting event.

Fairmount Park plans

Fairmount Park, which is authorized under the gaming bill to have up to 900 gaming positions, and the two horse racetracks in the state have two months to apply for a gaming license from the Illinois Gaming Board, which then will have up to 120 days to make a decision on whether to grant the license. If a license is granted, the Collinsville racetrack will then have 120 days to pay the up front fee of having each of those positions.

Fairmount Park President Brian Zander said the park is still waiting to see the applications it will have to fill out to have sports betting and its casino games. Zander understands the gaming board and its staff have a large undertaking on their hands as they are charged with implementing the gaming expansion.

“Basically we’re kind of in a holding pattern at this time,” Zander said. “We understand … in two days the General Assembly gave the gaming board the responsibility to effectively issue a license to six new casinos, including the city of Chicago, you know that’s not going to be an easy process … three new racinos … and from scratch, make up rules for sports betting. To me, that seems like a lot of work for a gaming board, that I’m told is pretty busy just trying to keep up with all these taverns and stuff that want VGTs.”

Fairmount has long sought after a new revenue source in order to help fund its purses to attract more horse owners to race at the park.

If sports betting rules are put into place sooner, Zander said Fairmount has some areas with televisions and tables where sports wagering could be set up relatively quickly for people 21 years and older.

“We have to wait for the gaming board to tell us here’s what you have to do, here’s what your choices are, here’s what you can’t do, and then we’ll go from there,” Zander said.

Zander said the gaming expansion legislation tries to set up different scenarios to help move the rule making along, such as wagering on game results, and in-game wagering, such as what Matt Carpenter will do during his next plate appearance.

He said he thinks the gaming board could look at how other states set up sports betting as a way to help the process in Illinois.

“So they could take New Jersey, or New York, or maybe a couple of states and maybe just take the best parts of each law that they like and make sure it conforms with the legislative language, but I don’t know how long that process would be,” Zander said.

Another place people could see sports wagering are sports venues with a seating capacity higher than 17,000 people.

In the metro-east, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison would qualify to have sports betting at its location, if it ultimately chooses to do so.

“The signing of the (gaming) bill obviously brings a lot of unique opportunities for sports gaming in the state of Illinois,” said Chris Blair, executive vice president and general manager of World Wide Technology Raceway. “This is a new area for motorsports and one that has many of the top sanctioning bodies examining their next steps. We will work closely with those groups to see what works best for our entertainment venue as this story continues to evolve.”

Video gaming grows

Local taverns, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations are slated to have the opportunity to added more video gaming terminals at their locations.

Businesses with video gaming terminals will now be allowed to have up to six machines, up from a five-machine limit. Truck stops that are within three miles of a freeway interchange and sell more the 50,000 gallons of diesel a month, will be able to have up to 10 machines.

The maximum bet allowed on the machines is going up to $4 from $2. Maximum prizes also increase from $500 to $1,199, and there can be an in-location progressive jackpot up to $10,000.

Video gambling machines are in almost every community in Illinois. Proponents have called for a gambling expansion to boost state revenues. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

But having machines with the new features may take sometime too.

“I don’t know at this point. It’s too early,” said Barry Gregory, the owner of Crehan’s Irish Pub in Bellevlille. “They’re working on the machines, like the player reward systems. It takes some software upgrade apparently on the machines.”

However, people will have to wait for the higher wagers. If someone wants to wager $4 on a maximum bet, “bet twice is all I can say right now,” Gregory said.

“Nobody is sure exactly when the upgrades will be made, and the question is whether the gaming board will have to go around with the operators when they do,” Gregory said. “Right now anytime the machines are upgraded, the gaming board personnel has to be with them. If that’s case it’s going to take a long time to go through 6,700 machines throughout the state.”

Still the prospect of having an additional VGT has Gregory already making plans of where to put the machine.

“We’re looking at a couple different options right now,” Gregory said. “One would be remodel our area where our current gaming is, and another possibility is moving a couple to a different location and different area.”

More casinos

The state’s casino expansion will allow the 10 existing casinos to expand to 2,000 positions from 1,200 positions, if they want to. Those casinos also will be joined by six new casinos, including one at Walker’s Bluff in Williamson County, which is being allowed to have up to 1,200 positions, gaming board documents say.

The casino is slated to be added to the existing vineyard and tasting room. It will be a part of a larger development that includes two hotels, water park and convention center.

“I understand how deeply beneficial a destination resort will be for residents and visitors to this area,” Walker’s Bluff CEO Cynde Bunch said during a recent news conference with Pritzker. “I was born and raised here, and so I know the full extent of the need - and how precisely The Resort at Walker’s Bluff will address every opportunity for businesses and our people.”

The Southern Illinoisan reported Bunch plans to open the new facility in January 2021. She expects construction of the casino and resort to take approximately 18 months. The water park will take 24 to 30 months to complete.

Emily Burke, the senior vice president of project development and chief community engagement officer for Walker’s Bluff, said the winery is hoping for a possible ground breaking on the large project around Labor Day even as it awaits approval from the gaming board.

“We know it’s not the first time a privately funded project would begin to make progress even while waiting for final government approval because there’s so much to gain from opening as soon as possible,” Burke said.


Why did we report this story?

The gaming expansion signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker received bipartisan support. We wanted to keep readers informed of when features of the expansion bill would start.

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Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.