J.B. Pritzker took over the office of Illinois governor on Monday, causing proponents of online poker and gambling to gain new hopes for regulation.
Pritzker is known as pro-gambling and is intent on getting Illinois back on its feet as the Prairie State finds itself billions of dollars in debt due to state pensioners. A balanced budget is a huge priority for the rookie governor and the 53-year-old has mentioned casino expansion and sports betting as ways to increase revenue.
While online poker and gambling regulation hasn’t yet rolled off his lips, it’s believed that Pritzker would have no qualms in signing such legislation considering his views on gambling expansion in general. That bodes well for online poker players in Illinois and beyond, as the state ranks 6th in population with 12,768,320 residents, slightly behind 5th-ranked Pennsylvania.
A multi-state agreement of pooling online poker players that would include both Pennsylvania and Illinois, in addition to the current partnered states of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, would be a tremendous boon to advocates of i-poker in the US. It could prompt additional states to get into action and climb aboard as well.
First Things First
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Pritzker has yet to even get comfortable in his new role as Illinois’ top legislator. However, it’s at least promising that a pro-gambling governor is at the helm in the Land of Lincoln.
The new governor is on record as saying that certain existing Illinois casinos haven’t been performing up to par with regard to revenue totals. His idea is that the state’s casinos need to be placed in more strategic locations in order to attract more tourists and gamblers from other states.
A Democrat, Pritzker is a billionaire several times over, his family holding ownership over the Hyatt Hotel chain. He is recognized as the third richest US lawmaker ever, trailing only former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the current foolhardy US President Donald Trump.
Illinois has been toying with gambling expansion for some time now, including a proposal last year that combined online poker, casino games, and sports betting. Hearings were held, support and momentum seemed to be building, but the issue never made it over the hump despite a strong push from State Rep. Robert Rita.
Whether Rita will be championing the cause once again in the new legislative session remains to be seen. His SB. 7 last year was a good starting point and many of his constituents would like to see him pick up where he left off.
Bad Actor Language Too Strict
Should Rita carry the torch – or some other legislator – the language of any new proposal could perhaps be worded differently to avoid some issues that arose in 2018. With regard to online poker specifically, a bill floated last year seemed to go a bit too far in prohibiting operators who serviced the US market in the past from applying for a license.
That would rule out gaming operators such as WSOP.com and PokerStars, giants in the industry who are already up and running in other states. It could create a real mess when Illinois is ready to partner with those states to increase liquidity, only to be stymied due to some bad actor clause.
In any event, Illinois is at the top among the states that have a good chance of passing online poker and gambling legislation in 2019. While Pritzker’s priorities may lean toward land-based casinos and sports betting at the moment, there’s plenty of hope that i-gaming and i-poker won’t be left behind.