Mike Zalewski is a baseball fan. Chicago White Sox, if we’re getting specific. So, it’s only natural that he likens the path to legalized sports betting Illinois to the flow of America’s pastime.
“The sessions run very similar to the first half of a baseball season, we’re in spring training, the really early part, like pitchers and catchers, right now,” he said. “People are getting into Springfield, people are getting to know their staffs and March and April are kind of spring training games, learning how to get bills out of committee.”
Zalewski (D-District 23), the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance and Revenue, already knows his way around the capital, and he’s not only working on a sports betting bill, but along with Representative Bob Rita (D-District 28), who held comprehensive hearings in the fall, he’s preparing to make legal Illinois sports betting a reality with legislation onto new Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk by May.
“March and April will be used for hearings, and then come May, it will be time go, to start passing things,” he said. “We’re trying to get something on his desk by end of May.”
Governor included sports betting in budget
There appears to be no question that Pritzker will sign sports betting legislation after tasking state lawmakers in his state of the state address to “take this up immediately,” and he included $200 million in sports betting revenue in his budget.
Illinois @GovPritzker delivers his first budget address on Wednesday. The new Governor inherited a $3.2b hole in the the state budget, which he hopes to plug by taxing marijuana and sports betting in order to avoid raising income taxes. https://t.co/7HG8CV9gMI pic.twitter.com/kUFphCmixa
— MultiState Associates (@MultiStateAssoc) February 25, 2019
Continuing with the baseball analogy, Zalewski is assembling his team. In addition to Rita, he has a powerhouse player in the Senate, Toi Hutchinson (D-District 40), the Chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee. Zalewski said it doesn’t matter whose name is on the bill when sports betting legislation is filed this session, rather, that the key players will have come together to craft a bill that mollifies all of the stakeholders.
That said, Zalewski isn’t ready to talk about a tax structure or rate, but he did promise mobile and at least inferred that it’s highly unlikely that an Illinois sports betting bill will include any sort of payout to the professional leagues.
“The royalty fee or integrity fee drives everybody crazy, it’s very much catnip in this dialogue,” Zalewski said. “We have two teams playing in taxpayer-funded (White Sox at Comiskey Field and Bears at Soldier Field) properties, and the Cubs have redeveloped the south side, and the Bulls who invested money. Sports and politics are intrinsically connected in Chicago, so we can’t just impose something on them.”
Lawmaker believes time is right for legal IL sports betting
There is currently one bill in the state legislature, sponsored by Senator Napoleon Harris, a former NFL linebacker, that does include a so-called “integrity” fee and a 12.5 percent tax on adjusted gross revenue. It is a mirror image of the bill Harris introduced in 2018, and it’s unlikely that it will get serious consideration.
From Zalewski’s standpoint, all the stars are in alignment, and though Illinois isn’t know for moving gaming expansion quickly through its legislature, this year sure seems like the year.
“If we don’t get this done by June, it will be a failure of the legislature, because we have the momentum,” Zalewski said. “Hope to have it up and running by the end of the year, but there are a lot of challenges.”