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Would-be legal bettors chime in on Illinois sports betting launch: ‘Get on it already’

State regulators received hundreds of pages of public comments from all ends of the pending sports wagering industry.

People sit in the South Point hotel-casino sportsbook last year in Las Vegas.
People sit in the South Point hotel-casino sportsbook last year in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/John Locher

Ease up on restrictions. Protect athletes.

And get a move on, already.

That’s just a taste of what members of the public had to say to the Illinois Gaming Board after the regulatory agency asked for input as it drafts rules setting the framework for legal sports betting to launch across the state.

“Don’t try and reinvent the wheel, ask the experts out in Vegas how to run a [sportsbook],” one self-described gambler told the board in an email. Another armchair regulator agreed, calling it “a no brainer” to follow the Sin City blueprint “and all should be well.”

Their blunt recommendations were among hundreds of pages of responses released Friday by the Gaming Board, documenting observations, criticisms and suggestions from all corners of the burgeoning industry, including corporate interests, professional athletes’ unions — and vehement adversaries of all forms of gambling.

“I’m disgusted that sports gambling, a long-time activity that was profitable for the mob, is now legalized,” one woman wrote the board. “So, please have strict rules to prevent underage gambling, to limit or prohibit advertising, to address availability at all hours on mobile devices, and to prevent money laundering.”

Others scoffed at the pop culture trope of organized crime goons out to collect from delinquent sports bettors.

“I also want to point out that there is a stigma around sports betting that is unwarranted,” a man wrote. “The idea of a gambler losing his life savings and getting his legs broke by a mobster is a myth in today’s climate.”

Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter speaks at an Aug. 8 meeting.
Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

That same commenter lamented the fact he’d be placing his bets elsewhere until Illinois — three months removed from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature legalizing sports betting as part of a massive gambling expansion — catches up with nearby states that launched sportsbooks over the summer.

“That bums me out. Get on it already,” he wrote.

“I’ll be making the drive to Indiana in the meantime,” another impatient fan said.

Most comments came in the form of lengthy, carefully crafted legal outlines submitted by attorneys for casino corporations, industry associations and racetracks hoping to improve their standing out of the gate. Many of their suggestions overlapped, including requesting that gamblers only be required to register for one betting account that works at multiple casinos or racetracks.

Lawyers for the players’ unions of the NFL, NBA and NHL also chimed in, calling on the Gaming Board to spell out rules protecting the safety of athletes “during games and in restricted areas, parking lots, at team events, and where athletes are training, but also where they live their lives as citizens of the state outside of their work environment.”

That’s because the expansion of betting could lead to “a broad spectrum of misconduct, including physical or attempted assault, verbal threats, intimidation, and harassment,” by people looking to manipulate athletes for a preferred betting outcome, the unions said.

Michael Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, speaks after a September 2019 Racing Board meeting.
Michael Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

A cavalcade of angry Illinois horsemen also voiced their outrage at Arlington International Racecourse and its corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc., which has controversially declined applying for a casino license that has long been viewed as a way to shore up dwindling horse racing purses.

“Churchill Downs Inc. has failed the most basic test of honesty and integrity, that it should consequently be denied a sports betting license,” Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Mike Campbell told the board.

Arlington president Tony Petrillo didn’t broach that touchy issue in his letter, instead asking for clarification on the sports that will be playable once betting goes live, and, like most other industry interests, recommending the Gaming Board set a definite launch date soon “to create a level playing field among licensees.”

Sportbooks will be limited to casinos, racetracks and some of their off-track betting parlors for the first 18 months after launch, after which online-only gambling sites like DraftKings and FanDuel will be able to apply for a $20 million sports wagering license — double the cost of brick-and-mortar gambling dens.

A commenter bemoaned that “penalty box” legislation, writing “[j]ust because one casino operator has a grudge against Draft Kings doesn’t mean we all should suffer.”

Board administrator Marcus Fruchter said his agency is “reviewing all submissions and will use these comments, where appropriate, to inform our sports betting rules, procedures and policies.”

The next Gaming Board meeting is Nov. 7.

Read all the sports betting comments here: