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The state of Illinois has had something of a chequered past. Its association with the likes of Al Capone and John Dillinger has seen it feature in countless gangster movies over the past few decades, but the reality of its gambling scene is far less glamorous than Hollywood often suggests.
At present, online gambling in all its forms is prohibited in Illinois, with the exception of the sale of lottery tickets. However, the law only covers the operational side of the practice, which means that residents of the state are able to make wagers over the internet to bookmakers operating legal ventures in other countries.
In March 2013, there were signs that state lawmakers were considering a drastic change in Illinois’ gambling laws, in light of the fact that other states such as New Jersey and Delaware were taking revolutionary steps towards legalising online casinos and poker. A bill was proposed which managed to pass the first major hurdle of a committee vote, but despite amendments being made, the online gambling aspects were eventually removed altogether.
While there has been little headway since, the Los Angeles Times revealed in 2010 that online horse racing bets had finally been made legal after the Illinois Racing Board granted the very first state licences. Three Californian companies were issued with the licences, which were expected to increase revenue by up to $150 million as well as generating over $2 million in state tax. The licences expired in 2012 without being renewed, but Governor Quinn signed new legislation that allowed the practise to continue to 2014, on the provision that companies operating after the licence expired pay taxes on any unlicensed earnings. More recently, in January 2014 another extension, this time for three years, was made so that horse racing tracks in the state could keep their schedules for the entire year. This came about when the Illinois Racing Board revealed that online betting now accounts for one third of its total earnings.
As with the majority of other states, horse racing remains the only legal sports betting activity that can be operated and maintained within Illinois. There are a total of five race tracks dotted throughout the state, including the famous Arlington Park in Chicago.
While bookmakers cannot operate online sports betting facilities, Illinois residents are able to make bets using foreign sites without expressly breaching any laws. This will come as a relief to the majority of Chicago's sports mad residents, with the city playing host to most of the state's biggest sports franchises. This includes two Major League Baseball teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, the NFL Chicago Bears, as well as the NHL Chicago Blackhawks, who share a stadium with basketball team the Chicago Bulls, best known for former player Michael Jordan.
As with sports betting, many of the state’s gambling events and tournaments take place in Chicago. This is particularly fitting as there is a variant of poker named after the city. Ironically, the biggest tournament, the Chicago Poker Classic, takes place in the Horseshoe Hammond casino located near the city, but across the state line in neighbouring Indiana. Other popular local tournaments include the Windy City Poker Championship at various venues in the Tinley Park district, as well as the Chicago Charitable Games, held at the Toyota Park stadium.
Given the state’s turbulent history with organised crime and high-profile political scandals, it is understandable why its lawmakers wish to proceed cautiously when dealing with online gambling. However, with the Illinois horse racing industry now generating money hand over fist as a result of its online ventures, as well as state senators pushing for a reworking of gambling legislation to bring Illinois in line with other states, it may only be a matter of time before online casinos are legally allowed to offer their services within state lines.
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