Whitman: All bets should be off on collegiate sports

Whitman: All bets should be off on collegiate sports

By GRANT MORGAN
gmorgan@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD — Speaking to a House subcommittee Wednesday on behalf of 12 of the state’s 13 NCAA Division I schools — all except Chicago State — University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said he opposed any bill that would allow sports betting on collegiate athletics in Illinois.

Both plans introduced at Wednesday’s hearing at the Statehouse include restrictions on betting on Illinois collegiate teams.

A letter from Whitman and the other 11 athletic directors to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly urged them to exclude betting on college athletics altogether.

Unlike pro sports, the letter argued, the campus environment would allow potential gamblers to easily interact with athletes, “the subject of their bets” on campus.

It would place student-athletes “squarely in harm’s way” from those looking to alter the outcome of games or get inside information for betting, the letter said.

Pro athletes are adults who are protected by security and difficult to influence, making millions of dollars a year, whereas student-athletes are younger, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, and more susceptible to influence, the letter said.

Employees and students who work with athletic programs are also at risk of exploitation from gamblers, opening them and the university up to potential legal problems or NCAA violations, the letter said.

If legislators allow it, the athletic directors urged them to bar gambling on state university teams, limit online sports gambling, impose a minimum age requirement and prohibit advertising on college campuses.

“Legalizing gambling on college sports presents significant and permanent risks to the integrity of our games, to the participating student-athletes, and to the sponsoring institutions,” it said.

Wednesday’s hearing in Springfield happened on the same day that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a sports betting bill in that state — making it the ninth to do so since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year allowed the practice.

The two plans unveiled at the Statehouse were filed just hours before the House subcommittee met to discuss sports gambling in Illinois, leaving testifiers the difficult task of deciding their stance on the new plans without having had much time to review them.

Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, who has taken the charge on legalizing sports betting in Illinois, filed the two amendments to House Bill 1260 early Wednesday morning.

Each amendment outlines yet another system by which lawmakers hope to support Pritzker’s goal of bringing more than $200 million in sports wagering revenues to Illinois in the next fiscal year.

➜ The first plan would allow both online sports gambling and brick-and-mortar betting at the state’s casinos, race tracks, betting parlors and video gambling terminals. Licensing fees would range from $5 million to $10 million, while wagering would be taxed at 25 percent.

Under that plan, the Illinois Lottery could also allow wagering in 2,500 retail locations, with a $30 million initial license fee and a 100-percent tax.

➜ The second plan limits the number of licenses to seven for brick-and-mortar locations and three for online operators. Licensing fees in this plan range from $5 million to $20 million, but the 25 percent tax on wagering stays the same.

Also under the second plan, professional sports leagues would be paid a 0.2-percent royalty in exchange for official league data. Representatives from Major League Baseball and the NBA said their data is the speediest and most accurate available, and that they could boost the sports betting industry in Illinois if they were the sole providers of data.

“If we are being compensated by the casinos, we have a financial incentive to drive up the amount of money bet in Illinois,” said Bryan Seeley of MLB.

Zalewski, the amendments’ sponsor, encouraged stakeholders at the end of the hearing to figure out exactly what parts of each plan they support, and how many votes the provisions would garner in the General Assembly.

Capitol News Illinois is a newly created nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation. Its mission is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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