In Illinois, you can legally wager on Michigan-Notre Dame, Alabama-Auburn and Florida-Georgia.
In more than one sport.
How about Illinois-Northwestern or Illinois State-Bradley? Not so fast.
Currently, legal bets on in-state schools aren’t possible in Illinois. Of course, you can drive across the border into Indiana or Iowa to risk a few bucks.
Former Illini football player Kam Buckner, now a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, wants to see some of that money stay within the state.
A bill is under consideration by the Illinois legislature that will allow bets on in-state teams. The change to the current laws is opposed by Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.
Buckner, a strong supporter of his alma mater, understands Whitman’s concerns.
“Josh had made some very cogent points about the balance he has to strike as the athletic director at the University of Illinois to protect both the institution and the program, but also the young men and women who are under his purview,” Buckner told me this week. “I take that very seriously. Josh and I have had some serious conversations about that. He’s been reasonable, practical and pragmatic.”
Buckner wonders if the current system actually protects athletes from ridicule, scrutiny and bad actors.
It’s different than when Buckner was in school during the early to mid-2000s as a defensive tackle under Ron Turner and Ron Zook. After a good or bad game, the Chicago native would hear mostly from students who lived in his dorm.
“The internet has really made the world a lot smaller,” Buckner said. “A dropped touchdown pass from a receiver, he gets the scrutiny not only from the folks in-state, but he gets scrutiny from folks across the world if they are paying attention to Illinois sports.”
Worst-case scenarioThe fear for college presidents, athletic directors and coaches is the possibility a student-athlete would shave points or rig the outcome of a game to benefit gamblers.
It has happened before in college sports.
“I don’t think not allowing in-state sports betting is going to change that,” Buckner said. “Me and Josh have a differing opinion on this. I’m not charged with the task he is charged with, which is protecting these young people. I understand this is his job. I get that.”
Buckner makes good points.
Unless you have your head in the sand, you realize there is wagering on Illinois college teams going on in the state.
By not making the state schools a legal gambling option, you are driving customers across the state lines or to illegal gambling operators.
Out in the open is better. And will also provide a revenue bump for the state.
“I’m open to trying to find ways to make it more palatable,” Buckner said.
Buckner expects the bill to be considered again when the legislature returns to work later this summer.
“I want to make sure Josh and the UI’s sentiments are heard,” Buckner said.
Prop bets involving college teams won’t be allowed. You won’t be able to wager on the number of points scored by a star basketball player or the number of tackles by a linebacker.
Final score only.
The bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans.
And it has critics on both sides.
Back in the dayBuckner has never been much of a gambler. He didn’t pay attention to point spreads during his playing days.
Some of his teammates were more aware.
“They knew what people were betting on. They knew what what the spreads were,” Buckner said. “And this is before it was legal and before much of the social media that exists today was out there.”
Buckner accepts the existence of gambling.
“We’re not going to change people’s desire to do this,” he said. “Let’s face reality and find a way to get some of this tax revenue and put it back in the state where it matters.”
Buckner is all for helping student-athletes. He was one of the main sponsors of a bill that will allow them to make money off their name, image and likeness. He thinks it will help reduce other temptations.
“As we creep closer toward a more equitable college sports landscape, I think some of these scandals and salacious things start to fade away,” Buckner said. “If Bob the junior offensive lineman can make a little bit of money putting his face on a poster for Silver Mine or Insomnia instead of creating this salacious deal with some backdoor guy or gal from Chicago or Springfield or Rantoul to do whatever they can do to throw a game, then that’s a good step.”
Good ideaIf betting on Illinois college teams becomes legal, Buckner has a planned use for some of the revenue.
“Put it toward creating a better quality of life post-playing time for our student-athletes,” he said. “That would be great to me. I think that would be a win-win.”
The state could help student-athletes pay for grad school or other advanced training. Or take care of tuition costs for those who finished a few credits short of a degree.
Buckner currently represents the 26th district, which includes Chicago’s lake front, from south Chicago to the Gold Coast.
Away from all the hot-button issues surrounding college sports these days, he is excited about Illinois’ hiring of Bret Bielema as football coach. And eager to see if he can help the Illini post their first winning season since 2011.
“I think he’s a ball coach, man,” Buckner said. “I played with some ball coaches in my time there who I really respected. From what I can tell, he’s bringing a new kind of swagger into there. I think Illinois football is on the up and up.”