Football season has arrived, and with it comes the crisp air, the smell of tailgates and the thud of shoulder pads colliding at Soldier Field. For a Chicago Bears fan, the season starts with the promise of a young, aggressive defense that can lead the Bears back to the playoffs.
Moreover, millions of sports fans around Illinois look forward all week to taking on their friends and fellow fans from around the globe to see whose running back churns up the most yards, whose quarterback comes through in the clutch, whose defensive back’s pick six is a difference maker.
But this fall, the fun is mixed with uncertainty.
Last fall, fantasy sports started to run into legal trouble here and around the country as questions were raised about how these games should be regulated. In December, our attorney general issued an opinion that fantasy sports were not legal under current law because they constituted gambling as opposed to a game of skill. I argued that rather than debate whether these new and revolutionary websites fell into a pre-existing category, we should recognize them for what they were: entertainment created through 21st century technology that need a 21st century approach to lawmaking.
I worked with state Sen. Kwame Raoul and my colleagues in Springfield on a reasonable solution. Our legislation included Gaming Board oversight, age restrictions, protection of player deposits, and a prohibition against “third party scripts” designed to prey on lesser experienced players, making it among the toughest policy crackdowns on daily fantasy sports in the nation. But we ran into roadblocks in the Legislature. Traditional gaming interests raised concerns that led to a needless and unproductive lobbying frenzy at the end of the spring session, when my colleagues wanted to focus on our ongoing budget crisis. I ultimately pulled the bill from consideration to respect their wishes.
Meanwhile, we are right back where we started — in desperate need of clarity, not to mention tax revenue for a state that is looking to close the unconscionable gap in education funding that has plagued Illinois for far too long. As we turn on the game and track the latest stats on our phones and laptops, let’s carry this issue across the goal line in Springfield and watch millions of Illinoisans celebrate that we got one right.
Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, has served in the Illinois House of Representatives since 2009.
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