For those of us who hoped online sports gambling might be a way to solve this state’s $130 billion pension debt, state Rep. Lou Lang says curb your enthusiasm.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a national law that prohibited sports gambling in most states. The 1992 law was passed with the support of the NCAA and four major professional sports leagues, which feared that wagering on athletic events would besmirch the purity of the games.
You know, like team doctors sexually molesting gymnasts, pedophiles assaulting children in football locker rooms, athletes taking performance enhancing drugs and colleges plying prospective student-athletes with booze and women.
Illinois does not allow sports gambling. Yet, according to state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, $5 billion was wagered illegally on athletic events last year by residents of this state, mostly on internet sites based offshore.
“If we’re going to get a sizeable share of that bet on legal internet sites, we can’t go crazy with taxes,” said Lang, who has been working on a bill to legalize sports gambling in Illinois since January.
“I would rather get this this done right than get it done quickly,” Lang added. “You can really mess this up if you get it wrong.”
At legislative hearings sports gambling experts testified that hefty taxes and fees imposed by states would encourage betters to continue wagering at illegal sites, where there are no such charges.
“About 60 percent to 70 percent of all sports wagering in Nevada now occurs using computer apps,” Lang said. “People use their smart phones. That percentage is only going to grow.
“I think we would probably try to create some jobs here by perhaps legalizing bookmaking parlors and we would certainly allow the racetracks, casinos and off-track sites to take sports bets, so they could get in on the action.
“But we don’t even have a rough draft of a bill yet. I’m going to do my best to come up with something we can introduce in the next few days, but with only about two weeks left in the legislative session it may not be possible to pass something this spring.”
Asked what sort of tax revenue he envisions sports gambling would generate, Lang said, “Maybe $50 million a year. It’s not going to be the windfall some people would envision. But it would help the state financially while generating jobs for people in Illinois and regulating an industry that right now is controlled by organized crime.”
State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, who sits on the Senate Gaming Committee, said he would hope the state could generate $200 million to $600 million in taxes annually and leans toward “the pessimistic $200 million figure.”
But he noted there are always various entities competing for a share of the action (casinos, racetracks, municipalities, to name a few) and appeasing them all has always been difficult.
Cunningham said that at Senate hearings Major League Baseball and the NBA testified, to his surprise, that they no longer object to legalized online sports gambling.
“They believe it could actually help them track game fixing more easily since they would be able to get information about sports betting from the public sites,” Cunningham said.
“They also had some good suggestions, like carefully regulating proposition bets, like gambling on the first pitch of a game, because those are much easier to fix than the outcome of a game.”
Cunningham noted something else interesting about the testimony of the professional sports leagues.
“The leagues seem to believe that they are entitled to a share of the money bet on their games,” he said with a laugh.
Gee, you think that might have influenced their change of heart about legalizing sports wagering?
I asked Cunningham if the state regulations on legalized sports wagering could outlaw the deliberate tanking of games. Could pro team owners be jailed for such conduct?
I wouldn’t bet on it.