House Advances Major Changes to State Gaming Law, Senate Action Awaited

Illinois’ current gaming law is based on big moves enacted in 2019.  To meet consumer demand, Illinois legalized sports wagering, expanded video gaming machine numbers, asked the Illinois Gaming Board to look into legalizing several new casino locations, and authorized existing casinos to move from floating locations to land-based operations.  New tax revenues from these expansions were dedicated to the Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan. 

The 2020 pandemic showed that some of these changes will take time to fulfill.  Others facets of gaming expansion jumped into existence almost at once, despite a challenging year.  The sharp growth in Illinois sports wagering was a matter of particular note.  New gaming legislation advanced by the Illinois House at the end of the 2021 spring session takes account of the new data that has come in since 2019.  If the House language becomes law, Illinoisans will be allowed to place bets on Illinois college teams for the first time.  The Chicago Sky WNBA team, through their use of Wintrust Arena, was added to the list of sports teams that will be allowed to sponsor sports wagering platforms.

Video gaming players are threatened by moves, in some Illinois municipalities, to enact local “push taxes” that will impose a small tax every time a video game button is pushed to start a play.  The House’s bill, SB 521 as amended, bans enactment of “push taxes” by local governments.  The measure also authorizes the meeting places of U.S. veterans, and the meeting places of fraternal organizations (such as the Elks Club or the Knights of Columbus) to apply for the right to host video gaming terminals in communities that do not have any machines right now.

The gaming bill language was included in SB 521, as amended in the House.  When the House approved the measure on Tuesday, June 1 by a vote of 96-11-1, the vote sent the measure to the Illinois Senate for further debate and action.