Original article written by Ian Firstenberg for the Chicago Tribune on May 2nd, 2023. A link to the original article may be found HERE.
Illinois may legalize online sports betting on in-state college teams, with HB4041 currently under deliberation. Right now, you can only bet on teams like Illinois football or Northwestern basketball at in-person sportsbooks.
The bill would be a stark departure from the current regulations that restrict in-state collegiate betting to retail locations only. It would make the Land of Lincoln one of a few states that allows in-state online betting.
Lawmakers passed a bill in 2021 that allowed for a trial run for wagering on local teams. Notably, that legislation was set to expire on July 1, thus HB4041 — which was filed by Rep. Jonathan Carroll in late April — was put forward to potentially address the termination of the existing legislation. Universities were reticent to allow an open market and the pushback eventually led to a legislative compromise, with in-state collegiate betting allowed only at retail locations.
Under the bill, mobile sportsbooks could offer pre-game betting or Tier 1 wagering on the 13 schools that play Division I basketball and the seven FBS schools. Tier 1 betting is considered “determined solely by the final score or final outcome of the sports event and is placed before the sports event has begun,” so things like full game spreads and totals, not props.
Critically, Carroll’s bill does not include any language about player props and there has been much more substantial pushback against that type of betting. Of the nearly 40 states that have legalized sports betting, roughly half include provisions barring collegiate player props as university officials have cited concerns over student safety.
Illinois is, by most metrics, a top-five betting market in the country and a substantial portion of that comes from collegiate wagering. College betting drew roughly $1.4 billion handle in 2022 and, according to a monthly report from the Illinois Gaming Board, collegiate betting brought in $386.3 million in the first three months of 2023.
Roughly 55 times more college bets came through online than in person during that period, with 5,142,523 online college wagers placed from Jan. to March 2023 and 92,950 in person college wagers during the same period.
The sports betting expansion has the potential to increase Illinois’ tax revenue by nearly $1 million, which Carroll noted could be part of a revenue-sharing model to “offer support for the university for some of the student-athletes for mental health.”
Opposition from university officials
That push, however, has not swayed many university officials, including University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman. Whitman spoke on behalf of the 13 local schools against the expansion during the Tuesday hearing.
Whitman highlighted that colleges were not getting support from the state to diminish the mental health risks to students and noted a supposed uptick in social media bullying of student athletes in the wake of the 2021 sports betting expansion.
“By implementing more broad-based and state collegiate sports gambling, the people who are placed at risk are our student-athletes, our university students, and the integrity of our contests,” Whitman said during Tuesday’s session.
He also noted that New York and New Jersey — two of the biggest sports betting markets in the country — have explicit caveats barring in-state collegiate wagering. New Jersey doesn’t allow wagering on in-state teams like Rutgers and Princeton, or any collegiate events held in the state, like Army-Navy at MetLife Stadium.
Whitman presented a 32-page report to legislators during the session on Tuesday that included multiple pages of social media posts directed at Illinois and Northwestern players.
While the opposition was noted, one committee member highlighted how sports betting is the “natural outgrowth” of engagement that colleges continually seek, with big-budget sports programs, massive TV contracts and huge advertising deals.
If approved, the expansion would bring the Prairie State into the forefront of sports betting in the U.S. Few of the legal sports betting states allow for in-state college betting and with Illinois rapidly becoming one of the biggest sports betting markets in the country, the potential expansion would be a massive boom for online books and bettors.
It is not clear, at this point, when the next discussion about a potential online sports betting expansion would take place, but as noted the current legislation that limits in-state collegiate wagering is set to expire on July 1, 2023.