Lawmakers hear from those who want sports gambling’s impact studied before it gets legalized

CHICAGO — The Illinois General Assembly has placed sports betting on the fast track, but on Thursday, lawmakers heard from people who want to call a timeout. Experts testified that the benefits don’t outweigh the social cost.

Anita Bedell from Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction said there would be no way that you can keep underage people from gambling on sports.

“You talk about jobs, Australia – I’ve got the retailers association saying they’re losing 303,000 jobs per year as the money get dumped into slot machines instead of going into consumer economy,” Professor John Kindt, Gambling Academic, said.

A group of Illinois college athletic directors raised concerns, telling lawmakers legal college sports betting would put too much pressure on student athletes.

Larry Lyons, from Illinois State University said they don’t necessary have a problem with betting on professional teams, but thinks student athletes need to be protected.

House Revenue and Finance Committee Chair Mike Zalewski (D-Summit) is leading the legalization effort.

“I want to protect intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “I want to make sure that athletes are safe when they perform – they’re student athletes. We don’t want anything to interfere with their ability to play sports but it’s big business, this is gonna be big business for everybody so we’re trying to balance that.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is counting on legalized sports betting. His budget included $200 million in new state revenue for the next fiscal year. Then, lawmakers project anywhere from $40 million to $80 million in annual revenue.

“It’ll be something that the state will benefit from and if we do it the right way, it will be a safe and transparent process as well,” Zalewski said.

Adding to the pressure, yesterday, Indiana’s legislature approved betting on professional and college sports.

Zalewski doesn’t want Illinois gamblers crossing the border.

“We are in a race to get this done. We want to keep Illinois constituents in Illinois doing this and we feel an abundant amount of pressure to not get beat by Indiana and Iowa on that,” Zalewski said.

A licensing fee for sports betting would cost $10 million. To generate the $200 million the governor is counting on, the state would have to sell 20 licenses. Lawmakers said they’ll be plenty of operators who want in.

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