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.
Illinois – and in particular Chicago – has a colorful history of gambling dating back to the early nineteenth century, when thousands of immigrants fleeing oppression in Europe and the South migrated to the Prairie State in search of work. The migrants brought card games with them and would also bet on checkers, backgammon, policy (a lottery-type game), prize fights, rat fights and cock fights.
By the mid-nineteenth century, gambling in Illinois had become big business. Unofficial casinos and “pool rooms” – the forerunners to off-track betting parlors – were common throughout the state, “policy writers” (lottery ticket salesmen) were taking their business door-to-door, plus there was a booming horseracing industry and dozens of riverboat casinos operating along the Mississippi River.
Unfortunately large crime operations moved in to take control of most gambling operations and throughout the early to mid-twentieth century dominated Illinois´ gambling landscape. It was not until the 1960s that laws were introduced to reign in illegal gambling and sanitize the gambling industry; and these laws still influence Illinois online poker and gambling laws today.
Can Players From Illinois Play Poker Online?
Like most states that are yet to regulate online poker, Illinois online poker and gambling laws are often contradictory and open to different interpretations. Consequently, although a number of online poker sites provide a service to players in Illinois, I recommend seeking legal advice before playing online poker for real money, rather than playing in freeroll tournaments – which is definitely permitted.
Is it Legal to Play Online Poker in Illinois?
Here´s the crazy thing. It is clearly legal to play online poker in Illinois where
no payment or purchase is required to participate , but what are you supposed to do when you win? Illinois´ online poker and gambling laws stipulate that any
game of chance or skill for money not specifically allowed under section (b) of C38 §28-1 is a misdemeanor. Good luck trying to withdraw the dollar you won in a freeroll.
Illinois´ online poker and gambling laws also prohibit the operation of a website that
permits a person to play a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value by means of the Internet. Obviously that clause only applies to in-state operators as the state of Louisiana has no jurisdiction over out-of-state operators, which is why players from Illinois can play online poker.
In recent years, there has been some movement towards the regulation of online poker and other online gambling activities. In 2013, proposals to expand regulated gambling – including online gambling – were passed by the legislature . However, the bill was vetoed by the Governor, and the passage of subsequent bills have been obstructed by stakeholder self-interests and fears about saturation.
Illinois Gambling Legislation
Gambling legislation in Illinois doesn´t take up much of the statute books and generally consists of exclusions to the general rule of thumb that any
game of chance or skill for money not specifically allowed is a misdemeanor. Exclusions to the general rule include:
- Licensed games of bingo (legalized in 1971).
- The State Lottery (legalized in 1974).
- Charitable games, raffles and poker runs (legalized in 1986).
- Gambling on licensed riverboat casinos (legalized in 1990).
- Licensed Video Gaming Terminals (legalized in 2009).
In addition to the above, Illinois legalized racetrack-operated, pari-mutuel gambling in 1927. At one point, racegoers could place bets via online terminals, but this facility was later withdrawn. Currently, the only online gambling activity specifically allowed by Illinois´ gambling legislation is the State Lottery, which went online in 2012. However this could soon change.
Recent Developments in Illinois Online Poker & Gambling Laws
A discussion about an expansion of online gambling has been ongoing since the Department of Justice´s opinion in 2011 that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. Proposals for the regulation of online poker, online gambling and Daily Fantasy Sports have come and gone ever since. There have also been proposals designed to support the state´s declining horseracing and breeding industry.
The issues holding up any progress include proposals to expand land-based casinos, allow racetracks and airports to install slot machines, and permit venues with an existing Video Gaming licenses to add further machines with higher bet and payout limits. The rate of tax on Video Gaming Terminals would also increase from 30% to 35%.
Existing brick-and-mortar casinos want legislators to prioritize a land-based expansion in order to compensate for the loss of revenue attributable to the regulation of Video Gaming Terminals. Casino lobbyists claim to have lost 28% of their customer base since 2009. However, the Video Gaming industry – which contributed $111 million to the state in 2017 – also has powerful lobbyists with opposing views.
Consequently legislators are currently struggling to juggle proposals to expand land-based casinos, regulate online poker, online gambling, Daily Fantasy Sports and – since the U.S. Supreme Court´s verdict – sports betting as well. Both the casino industry and the Video Gaming industry are opposed to such an aggressive expansion of gambling – claiming it would saturate the market and damage their revenues.
Latest Illinois Online Poker & Gambling News
The Prospects for Regulated Online Poker in Illinois
It is difficult to forecast the prospects for regulated online poker in Illinois due to stakeholder self-interests, fears about market saturation and an ongoing budget crisis. It would seem to make sense for Illinois to pass a Pensylvania-esque gambling expansion package to resolve its budget crisis, but will powerful lobbyists representing the casino, horseracing and Video Gaming industries allow it?
My feeling is there will be a comprise expansion of land-based gambling to appease both the casino and Video Gaming industries, but – for the present – this will not include an online element. Whether or not the situation changes will depend on whether legislators can find a suitable solution to the state´s budget crisis. So I won´t be surprised to see the regulation of online poker in Illinois sometime soon, but I am not holding my breath.