You are hereby forgiven for already forgetting that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a prohibition on state-sanctioned sports gambling last year. Not only has there been a lot of … news out of Washington over the past year or so, but here in Illinois, the trek towards ubiquitous, legalized, state-sanctioned sports gambling has been slow.
We will get there eventually – there’s far too much money at stake (and not from won bets) for it not to get shoved through – but we’re just not quite there yet. WITH THAT SAID, progress has been made, and that progress is not wholly unrelated to the Chicago Cubs.
At the Chicago Tribune, you can read all about how the Cubs, Bulls, White Sox, and Blackhawks (note: not the Bears, yet) are backing a unified plan initially pushed by MLB, the NBA, and the PGA that would give professional leagues $0.25 of every $100 bet on their sports in the state. If that seems low, remember that it’s what they asked for … so it’s definitely not. In short, the leagues see this commission/cut/whathaveyou as a just fee for all the dollars generated by their games. But not everybody sees it that way.
Opponents “including casinos and horse tracks that in early legislative proposals would be shelling out upward of $10 million for each sportsbook license” contend that if the leagues want any part of the action, they should be left to negotiate with the sportsbook operators on their own – i.e. as opposed to getting it straight from the source. As you can imagine, that’s going to be a much smaller slice of the broader pie, as the sportsbook license holders are going to take their share first.
As for precedent, six states have already taken action on the Supreme Court’s decision and legalized gambling, but none of them have earmarked a dime to any of the various leagues (and Nevada (Vegas) does not, either). Because of this, one Democratic state representative has characterized the league proposal as an “audacious ask,” even as he acknowledged that the leagues are necessarily going to be involved in what’s essentially a “brand new industry.”
But the fee is not their only ask. Leagues are also interested in (1) helping dictate what type of bets are allowed, (2) requiring sportsbooks to use official league data, and (3) getting access to betting data. A generous person might agree with the league that those measures could help spot and prevent “suspicious patterns across state lines,” which, sure, it might. But in my experience, companies and industries want user data for one reason: to make money on it down the line. Indeed, access to that sort of data can be used for everything from making money upfront (think advertising) to swaying elections at the highest scale later on. That’s not to say it’s definitely a bad thing; I just don’t think their intentions are as altruistic as they’d likely have us believe.
But that might not matter. According to the Tribune, the four families that own the five major sports teams in Chicago have already invested a ton of financial and political capital into this fight and could present a potentially massive roadblock to getting legislation passed. And although many of the other states haven’t yet realized as much additional revenue as they once projected, those roadblocks are effectively preventing Illinois from realizing any revenue at all.
And, sure: we all (democrats, republicans, and independents alike) know that Chicago, in particular, and Illinois more broadly has never been the poster child for utilizing new revenue streams to their fullest efficient capacity, but I don’t think many are against more individual freedoms to use your money however you see fit. And if that results in more money for the state, that might be better than no additional money generated by anyone at all.
You can read all about how the Ricketts (Cubs), Wirtzs (Blackhawks), and Reinsdorfs (Bulls and White Sox) have used their money to sway political action at the Tribune, but I think it’s fair to say their efforts to get a cut of that action and access to our gambling data (vis a vis their broader league proposals) have so far slowed the momentum of legalized sports gambling, whatever the intentions.
Don’t take any of this the wrong, though: the casinos and sportsbook operators on the other side of this battle have, in some cases, spent even more money on politics to pursue their own interests.
I guess the only people left out of the conversation for now are the voters who don’t have a spare million or so to toss around to further their interests. Personally, I am pro legalized sports gambling and whatever measures need to be taken to ensure that there’s transparency and consistency across the board. I’m just not yet sure how involved the leagues actually need to be in that effort – Nevada has gotten by without that involvement for many years – but I’m not entirely closed off to it either.
Some version of sports gambling will be legalized in Illinois before too long – again, there’s simply too much money to be made for too many people for it to be avoided – but what it looks like exactly remains to be seen.