Illinois horsemen complicate online gambling bid; Pennsylvania’s Davis says state doesn’t need interstate help

TAGs: Illinois, Online Gambling bill, Pennsylvania, tina davis

illinois-pennsylvania-online-gambling-billsEarlier this month, the Illinois state senate introduced revised gambling legislation designed to address Gov. Pat Quinn’s concerns regarding the lack of restrictions on political campaign contributions by casino industry interests. The revised SB 1739 also added language that would authorize online gambling, which was a bit like being turned down for a $1,000 loan and immediately resubmitting an application to borrow $1m.

This week, Quinn told National Public Radio’s Amanda Vinicky that he viewed the online gambling portion of the bill as “problematic. It’s a brand new idea and there hasn’t been much review on that at all. Anytime you have something brand new it shouldn’t just be thrown into a bill at the last minute.” Sounds bad, but as some longtime Illinois-watchers have observed, given Quinn’s at times rabid denunciation of gambling expansion, describing something as “problematic” borders on an outright endorsement.

Definitely not endorsing online gambling is the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (ITHA), at least not until the bill provides extra revenue for horse racing purses. ITHA exec director Glen Berman told the Chicago Tribune that Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Arlington Park – which would be allowed to offer online gambling if SB 1739 passes – was playing divide and conquer with the state’s horseracing interests by offering $800k in incentives to the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation (ITBOF).

Berman finds the timing of the $800k offer suspicious, given that it comes while negotiations are stalled on a new contract for the upcoming meet scheduled to commence May 3. Berman suspects Arlington Park “would prefer not to see [the ITHA] in Springfield making sure that horsemen’s purses get money from internet gaming and making sure that the gaming bill that we’ve already negotiated and been sitting on for three years now doesn’t have any last minute changes.”

In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Tina Davis has been promising to reveal her online gambling (poker and blackjack only) legislation for a couple months now, but self-imposed deadlines continue to come and go without proof that such a bill exists anywhere but in Davis’ mind. On Monday, GamblingCompliance contributor Jennifer Webb tweeted that Davis had introduced her legislation, only to pull it back a few hours later. (It appears Davis’ bill contains a ‘groundhog’ provision that allows the bill to self-destruct if it catches a glimpse of its own shadow.) For what it’s worth, the bill reportedly set a gross gaming revenue tax rate of 45%.

The day after Davis’ bill did the hokey-pokey, Davis appeared on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) to discuss her aims for the bill (watch the interview here). Davis acknowledged that her original proposal to charge would-be online gambling operators a $40m license fee was “a lot of money, but we know that is coming down.” Asked why her bill would exclude the possibility of interstate compacts, Davis suggested Pennsylvania’s population of 12m was sufficiently large to make liquidity sharing unnecessary, although she also claimed (without attribution) that her state contained only around 27k online gamblers.

Davis stated that she was still negotiating the bill’s language with stakeholders, but noted that the state’s casinos had been shaken by by Gov. Tom Corbett’s abortive attempt to include electronic keno games in the contract to manage the state lottery. Davis said the casinos now recognize that online gambling is something they need to act upon if they want to remain in the driver’s seat. But Davis also stated that she had yet to consult the state’s gaming regulators for input on her bill, which suggests this groundhog may spend the rest of the legislative calendar cowering in its hole.


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