Bill Filed In Illinois To Allow Sports Wagering On Events Involving In-State Schools

The timing of the college sports betting bill is tricky, with a new General Assembly about to take over
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Illinois State Rep. Mike Zalewski filed a bill Saturday that would amend the Sports Wagering Act to allow legal sports betting on events involving the state’s colleges and universities.

HB 5876 would go into effect immediately if passed, though it is uncertain if the outgoing 101st General Assembly can move quickly enough to pass the bill before the swearing-in of the 102nd General Assembly on Wednesday at noon local time. The bill had its first reading and was referred to the Rules Committee on Saturday but needs to be read on three separate days in both the House and Senate chambers.

Zalewski was one of the primary drivers of the Sports Wagering Act that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June 2019 legalizing sports betting. Illinois began accepting wagers in March right before COVID-19 shut down almost all sports betting nationwide, and the sports betting market has thrived thanks to Pritzker’s monthly renewals of Executive Order 2020-41. Initially issued in June and most recently renewed Friday, it suspends the in-person registration required to gain initial access to mobile sports wagering.

Illinois is one of many jurisdictions with a carve-out prohibiting bettors from placing wagers on sporting events involving in-state schools, including Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oregon. New Jersey also has one, but legislators there began the process of expanding betting options to include those schools in November.

Iowa and Pennsylvania allow wagering on in-state teams but do not allow player prop bets for those contests. Virginia and the state of Washington, which could both begin accepting wagers in 2021, will not allow betting on in-state teams.

Bill likely to need re-filing for new General Assembly

If the bill does not pass by Wednesday, Zalewski would have to refile the bill due to the reset that comes with the incoming General Assembly. In an email exchange with US Bets, Zalewski said he felt that due to COVID-19, “there was inherent risk in putting athletes on the field this year and certainly much more risk than legalized wagering.”

With the gradual expansion of sports betting on a state-by-state basis, the NCAA — college sports’ governing body — has pivoted from opposing sports betting in general to trying to facilitate conversations between the schools and state legislators to create and maintain carve-outs like the one Illinois currently has in place.

Zalewski is not worried about potential pushback from schools across the state — Illinois has 13 colleges and universities that compete in Division 1 basketball and seven that play at the FBS or FCS level for football — and added he expects “we’ll sit with universities and hear them out” as things move forward.

There are three schools in the state — Big Ten rivals Illinois and Northwestern, and Northern Illinois — that participate in the FBS for football. Illinois, Northwestern, and DePaul (Big East) are in high-major basketball conferences, with the Illini ranked 14th in the most recent Associated Press College Basketball Top 25 poll and capable of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Could it pass before March Madness?

According to the Illinois General Assembly home page, 16 days of legislative sessions are scheduled from when the 102nd General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday to the tip-off of the First Four of the NCAA Tournament on March 16. That makes it possible the bill could be passed in time for March Madness, which is one of the busiest times of the calendar year for sportsbook operators (but did not take place last year due to COVID-19).

An Illinois Gaming Board spokesman said the IGB had no comment on the bill and added the regulatory agency “is not in position to speculate about how such legislation might be implemented if enacted.”

While the carve-out has some impact on college sports betting in Illinois, it is limited during the regular season because those games are part of a larger schedule in which bettors have multiple alternate options. It becomes a potentially bigger issue during bowl season and March Madness, when a more limited number of games are played.

Sportsbooks in the state missed out on offering wagers for Northwestern, which defeated Auburn in the Citrus Bowl played on New Year’s Day — one of the most popular days in the college football season. Additionally, if Illinois succeeds in a potential run to the NCAA men’s basketball title game in March, current law would prevent betting on at least six of the 67 games played. The other 12 schools vying for entry into the 68-team field span eight conferences, each of which gets an automatic bid, and they could further limit wagering options.

Photo by Patrick Gorski / USA TODAY Sports

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