Gambling Laws in the State of Illinois

An Overview of the Laws Covering Legal Online Gambling In the State Of Illinois

Illinois has some unique distinctions in the world of gambling. They were the first State to allow the sale of lottery tickets on the internet – and also the first to have explicit wording in their books to outlaw online gambling (at least for the operators). Combine this with a rich history of riverboat gambling and horse-racing, and you have an interesting background for this detailed look in Illinois’ gambling laws.

First of all below you will find a quick-fire run through of the history of gambling in Illinois, starting with the early racetracks and powering through to the current debate on internet gambling. After this there is a game-by-game run-through of the current laws. Next up you will find some detail of the wording of the gambling pieces of the current laws – followed by a summary and look into the future.


Illinois Gambling Laws – A Brief History

The history of gambling in Illinois goes back to the 1800’s when riverboat casinos plied the rivers unlicensed – and potentially dangerous characters from yesteryear played stud poker at the tables. Fast forward to the 1920’s and we saw horse racing betting legalized – which was to kick-start a vibrant industry where pari-mutuel betting is enjoyed by huge crowds of racing fans.

Illinois were also one of the first to legislate a State lottery, with their first draw taking part in 1974. Millions have already been raised with both the State and inter-State games hugely popular.

The riverboat casinos returned in 1991 – when laws were passed allowing them to offer gambling games as long as they were on the move on the rivers (though not the lake). In 1999 the movement clause was repealed, much to the relief of patrons who were used to long lines in the evenings before the boats set sail. Things expanded further in 2011, with provision for land-based casinos and expansion of the games offered at the racetracks in a new bill.

Video gaming machines, which are to be installed in a wide variety of establishments including bars and truck-stops, have proven controversial. There were a series of legal challenges to these, lasting for 2 years after the legislation was passed. Finally, in 2011 the final court of appeals ruling allowed these machines.

Online gambling is a mix in this State, they were pioneers in allowing the sale of online lottery tickets – though have since specifically outlawed the operation of online gambling sites in their legislation. Compared to other States, Illinois is progressive in allowing residents the freedom to enjoy gambling games. This gives proponents of legalized and regulated online poker hope that they will offer this to their 12 million residents in the near future.


Illinois Gambling Laws – What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Gambling: Yes, you can play live casino games at 10 riverboat casinos. These used to need to be sailing before the games could be played, though since 1999 they are allowed to remain docked. There are also charitable casino events, which are separately licensed by the department of revenue. Legal provision was made in 2011 for more casinos, though we have yet to see these built.

Online Casinos: No, this is not allowed. Unlike in many States, online gambling is expressly outlawed in a 2009 act – which makes it an offense to operate an online gambling site within Illinois.

Live Poker: Yes, you can find live poker games in the riverboat casinos, including a full tournament schedule. There is no special provision for social poker games under Illinois law, though no individual player has ever been prosecuted for playing in one.

Online Poker: No, operation of a gambling site is illegal and there are no regulated sites. There is some speculation that Illinois could have regulated online poker sites at some point in the near future.

Sports Betting: Only on-track pari-mutuel betting at recognized horse racing tracks is allowed.

Lottery Betting: Yes, this State was the first to take their lottery online back in 2001.

Bingo Games: Yes, charity bingo and raffle games are allowed, in addition to charity ‘casino nights’.


Illinois Gambling Laws – Timeline of Key Statutes

With such a rich history of gambling on their rivers, and pioneering stance on making lottery betting available over the internet – you might expect Illinois to have a liberal definition of gambling in their statute books. This is not the case, in fact this is a simple and board definition which makes no distinction as to whether the game is one of chance or skill.

Here is the most important excerpt:

Plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of valueSection 28-2

This is not only broad enough to count out the ‘poker is a game of skill’ argument, it is also future-proof – with any new games or schemes which people might dream up included.

In many States, this would be deemed sufficient to include internet gaming. Illinois goes one step further, and in 2011 they amended the statutes to specifically include this – though only targeting the operators at this point.

Here are some other significant dates and legal changes in the history of Illinois gambling.

1927: Horse racing bets, via pooled or pari-mutuel betting is approved. This has led to a thriving industry today with 6 horse racing tracks.

1974: July 1st sees the first draw in the Illinois lottery, this was originally designed to produce revenues for the State education fund – though after a drop off in local government education funding negated much of this benefit, the profits were diverted to more general funds.

1986: Charity Gambling approved under license.

1991: Riverboat casinos open their doors, these were required to cruise on the rivers during opening hour, and were not allowed on Lake Michigan. In 1999, the requirement for movement was dropped, and complexes were built around the permanent docks for the riverboat casinos.

2001: The sale of lottery tickets goes online, this is the first State to begin using this technology.

2009: Video Gaming Act passed, this legalized video gambling terminals in a wide variety of licensed establishments. Legal challenges kept these machines at bay until 2011, when the final court challenge was defeated.

2011: Casinos act SB744 passed expanding casinos away from the rivers and expanding the games offered at the pari-mutual horse racing tracks to include slots. This act did include provisions for online gambling, which were stripped out during its passage through the Senate.


Illinois Gambling Laws – Summary and A Look To The Future

Progressive legislation has allowed Illinois residents a free choice of many gambling pursuits – and has resulted in a lot of tax revenues for the State – which has no native tribes to share this with. The effects of recent laws including Video gaming machines and the expansion of casinos will be felt very soon – and if this is a success in terms of taxes the legislature may be willing to consider further expansions.

Illinois fits the bill for a State willing to legalize and regulate online poker. Though online gambling provisions were stripped from the latest bill, it is hoped that successful implementation of these games in other States will force a re-think at some point down the line.


Useful Resources:

Main Gambling Statutes (riverboat gambling act)

IL Casino Gaming Association

Background Reading, Report on Wagering In IL

US Gambling Laws Summary of Statutes