Illinois gaming laws are fairly relaxed. The state is home to riverboat casinos, racetracks and an online lottery. Certain forms of online betting are also permitted, namely horse racing betting and fantasy sports. State legislators have recently stated that an expansion of online gambling in Illinois is “inevitable.”
As it stands right now, Illinois is right in the middle of the pack as far as gaming options go. Gamblers and poker players will find plenty of gaming options between what is available online and what the state permits over the internet. Let’s start with a look at the online betting options in Illinois.
Online Betting Sites in Illinois
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Horse racing, fantasy sports sites and the state lottery may offer their services in Illinois provided they have the appropriate licensing to do so. Each would-be gaming site must receive specific approval from the state gaming board before it may legally accept wagers from state residents.
The Illinois Racing Board keeps a current list of betting websites that are allowed to accept wagers over the internet from residents. The current list consists of BetAmerica, TwinSpires, XpressBet and a few others.
My personal preference is to stick with BetAmerica and TwinSpires. These are the largest and most well-known sites on the list. They also have the most racing betting options.
Illinois also licenses off-track betting (OTB) at specific locations throughout the state. As the name suggests, OTB facilities allow you to place wagers on horse races at locations other than the actual racetrack. Each track may authorize a certain number of OTB locations for a total of 43 possible facilities. Currently, 27 OTB facilities are active. You can see the full list here.
Illinois Sports Betting Laws
Sports betting is illegal in Illinois at this time, but lawmakers have shown some interest in changing that. Two bills were introduced in 2018 seeking to legalize sports betting if the federal prohibition is ended. HB 4214 is a simple placeholder bill while SB 2478 establishes the Sports Betting Consumer Protection Act.
SB 2478 lacks details regarding regulations, licensing conditions and tax rates and passes the forming of regulations on to a state agency. Which agency that will be is left unsaid in the bill, but that too will be decided at a later point. The aim in the short term is to simply end the state-level prohibition of sports betting and then figure out the rest later.
A reading of the full text of the bill reveals the authors also envision online sports betting being legalized. The bill refers to “electronic” sports betting no fewer than 29 times as a potential form of betting that will be regulated by the state agency eventually assigned to regulate the industry.
The odds of these particular bills making it into law are difficult to judge, but Illinois appears to have a fair chance of passing something related to sports betting in the near or medium-term future. Lawmakers appear to have no moral qualms with gambling itself when we consider the other forms of gaming that are already available throughout the state.
The support of local casinos would probably improve the odds of sports betting coming to Illinois, but casinos have been quiet on the issue so far. However, Arlington Racecourse sounded open to the idea when it told the Daily Herald it would like a casino to go with sports betting:
“If we are treated equally with the casinos and we have slots and table games,” Arlington GM Tony Petrillo said, “and then we have sports betting, that’s a venture that would be very plausible for this property.”
One other factor that may have improved the odds of sports betting coming to Illinois is a 2018 Supreme Court decision declaring PASPA unconstitutional. PASPA, which is short for the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was a federal law that prohibited states such as Illinois from legalizing and regulating sports betting. The end of PASPA means Illinois may now legalize sports betting if it so chooses.
Real money fantasy sports betting is legal at the federal level thanks to an exemption from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. The UIGEA determined fantasy sports to be a contest of skill rather than luck since betting outcomes don’t depend on a single game or the performance of an individual player.
State laws also welcome fantasy sports so all the major US firms that offer fantasy betting are available to residents. You’re welcome to sign up, deposit and win real money at any of the sites listed above.
If you’re not familiar with daily fantasy betting, this is a form of wagering in which you pick from all the players in the league (it could be NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.) and draft a team of about 9 people depending on the sport. A virtual salary cap is enforced, which forces you to make hard decisions when deciding how to fill your roster.
After you have a team, all you have to do is wait for that week’s games to play out in the real world. When the actual players score points and amass stats in the real world, your fantasy team earns points. At the end of it all, the person whose fantasy team has the most points wins the contest.
You can play in small contests in which you pit your team against a single opponent, medium contests with 3, 4 or even 20 opponents or massive tournaments with hundreds or thousands of other people. Your goal is to earn as many points with your team as possible and win a real money payout.
Illinois has an interesting bit of case law history regarding fantasy sports. In 2013, New York resident Chris Langone brought a lawsuit against FanDuel.com in Illinois court. He sought to claim more than $500,000 in earnings from FanDuel and one of its customers under an old Illinois law called the Illinois Loss Act.
The Loss Act is an old piece of anti-gambling legislation that makes gambling losses recoverable by the loser if the losses amount to more than $50. If six months pass and the victim doesn’t claim the losses, anyone may recover those losses in court. Here’s the applicable piece of the law:
(a) Any person who by gambling shall lose to any other person, any sum of money or thing of value, amounting to the sum of $50 or more and shall pay or deliver the same or any part thereof, may sue for and recover the money or other thing of value, so lost and paid or delivered, in a civil action against the winner thereof, with costs, in the circuit court. . . .
(b) If within 6 months, such person who under the terms of Subsection 28-8(a) is entitled to initiate action to recover his losses does not in fact pursue his remedy, any person may initiate a civil action against the winner. The court or the jury, as the case may be, shall determine the amount of the loss. After such determination, the court shall enter a judgment of triple the amount so determined.
The lawsuit was eventually thrown out due to Langone failing to meet the minimum threshold of recoverable money and because FanDuel itself cannot be considered a “winner of gambling” because it simply acts as a middleman between bettors.
Are fantasy sports legal in Illinois?
The major fantasy sports sites all operate in Illinois and the state is home to many people who play every day, but the legality of DFS has yet to be completely, 100% settled with legislation. Back in December of 2015, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion that daily fantasy sports violate Illinois law, but no further action was taken and the major DFS sites have continued to operate openly since then.
Some lawmakers have also sought to push legislation that would either legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports or outlaw the activity altogether. House Bill 4323 introduced in 2015 and debated in 2016 would have formally legalized fantasy sports with the creation of the Fantasy Sports Contest Act, but that bill was shelved in 2016 and finally died altogether in early 2017.
A separate bill also introduced in 2016 sought to move things in the opposite direction and classify the operation of a fantasy site as a crime. Fortunately, that bill also died in early 2017.
As it stands now, daily fantasy sports are neither explicitly legal nor illegal in Illinois. The current status quo works well for players and operators, but it will be nice to finally see the issue firmly settled one way or another.
Several DFS legalization bills have been introduced in the intervening years, but none have yet made it into law. Early 2018 saw some action on a fantasy sports bill, but enthusiasm for that bill died and there have been no major changes since. Despite the AG’s 2015 opinion that DFS sites run afoul of Illinois gambling law, the major daily fantasy sites do accept customers the state.
Illinois was the first state to take its lottery to the internet after a federal judge ruled that it would be legal for states to do so. The online lottery went live in 2012 and the website allows residents to create an account and purchase individual tickets for Powerball, Mega Millions and Lotto.
Any state resident 18 or older may register an account there and purchase tickets or sign up for subscriptions for automatic purchases. Winnings under $600 are credited directly to your lottery account and may then be withdrawn straight to your bank account. If you win more than $600, the state lottery claims department will contact you with instructions for claiming your money.
Here’s something else interesting: the Illinois lottery is largely responsible for states now having the authority to legalize online poker and gambling. In 2009, Illinois and New York asked the Department of Justice to clarify its stance on the Wire Act of 1961. Both states had plans to sell tickets online but were unsure if this plan would run afoul of federal law.
It took the Dept. of Justice two years to respond but it was worth every minute of the wait. Not only did the DOJ approve of online lotteries, but it ruled that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting. This decision is what paved the way for states like New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware to legalize online casino games and poker.
Online Poker and Casinos in Illinois
Illinois has been flirting with the idea of online gambling legalization for years now. One effort came in 2013 when a major rewrite of the state’s gaming laws included a bit about legalizing, regulating and taxing online poker and casino games. Legislators yanked the part about online gaming before the bill was passed the following month.
For a period after the 2013 bill failed, there was no word or indication that online gambling would come to Illinois any time soon aside from Senate President John Cullerton once calling internet gambling inevitable. If the people of Illinois are going to be gambling and playing poker online anyways, why shouldn’t the state get a cut? It would be better to regulate it, enact better safeguards for players and keep those tax dollars stateside. That was the basic argument anyways.
Cullerton’s attempt to add online gaming to the 2013 bill ultimately failed, but he says he’s not out yet. He’ll continue to push the idea and hopefully make something happen for the players of Illinois. He also said that internet gaming probably won’t come to Illinois until lawmakers finalize and enact legislation to allow the construction of new land-based casinos in the state.
In the end, he said, internet gaming represents an easy source of cash for governments in all states. Lawmakers have the power to create a new industry overnight and generate a new source of revenue without raising taxes. The people want the freedom to spend their money how they please and state lawmakers like the idea of additional revenue.
Online Gambling Bill Passes in the Illinois Senate
The next big break for online gambling in Illinois came about unexpectedly in May of 2017. With little warning, language legalizing online gambling and online poker was added to a daily fantasy sports bill at the behest of local riverboat casino interests.
According to local news reports, existing casinos in Illinois view daily fantasy sports as a competing business model and were originally opposed to legislation regulating fantasy sports. However, those casinos had also been interested in expanding to online gaming for quite some time. They were able to strike a deal with lawmakers and get the online gaming language added to the fantasy sports bill.
In addition to creating consumer protection regulations for daily fantasy sports, the modified bill seeks to legalize online gaming and issue licenses to operators. Existing casinos, horse racing tracks and ADW operators will be authorized to apply for licenses for an application fee of $250,000 and a licensing fee of $10 million. Operators will be permitted to offset the hefty licensing fee against future taxes collected on gaming revenue.
The bill was put to a vote in the Illinois Senate in May and passed by a vote of 42-10, but stalled in the house.
Is it legal to play at offshore casinos or poker sites?
Article 28 of the Illinois Criminal Code appears to prohibit the mere act of playing poker or wagering on games. The code doesn’t specifically mention the internet, but it could be interpreted to apply to betting on games anywhere with the following text:
(a) A person commits gambling when he or she:
(1) knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value, unless excepted in subsection (b) of this Section;
(2) knowingly makes a wager upon the result of any game, contest, or any political nomination, appointment or election;
However, Illinois has never once prosecuted a person for playing games online. The state is home to some very high-profile poker players including the likes of Taylor Caby, who has made millions of dollars playing online poker and running the poker training site CardRunners.com. There probably isn’t much legal risk associated with playing at offshore poker rooms or casinos.
Even so, we don’t advise our readers to play for real money at unlicensed poker sites. The legal risk may be small, but it’s not zero. There’s also a significant financial risk associated with playing on sites that still accept Americans contrary to US gaming laws. The Department of Justice has shown us multiple times that it is capable and willing to shut down unlicensed gaming sites and seize funds.
The safe option for now is to play at land-based casinos and stick with the forms of internet betting that are already legal in Illinois. Gaming laws will probably change at some point so it’s not like you’ll be waiting forever. Most states today seem open to making online poker and gambling a reality.