Legal Poker in Illinois
Illinois makes no explicit mention if online poker is legal or an illegal activity. Horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering are legal in Illinois. There are five horse racing tracks in the state. Lotteries were legalized in the early 1970s, and bingo, raffles, and charitable gambling are allowed as well.
Illinois was one of the early adopters of casinos, though they are legal on riverboats only. The Riverboat Gambling Act was enacted in 1990s, the second of its kind in the United States, and Illinois was able to grant up to ten casino licenses. Each casino can offer everything from slot machines to table games like poker. The first one allowed a riverboat to open as a casino in the city of Alton in 1991. As of 2017, there were 10 in operation throughout the state.
The most recently legalized form of gambling in Illinois is video gaming terminals, which went into effect in 2009 and allowed bars and restaurants to apply for licenses.
Latest Developments Regarding Online Poker in Illinois
Illinois has been considering legalizing online poker and other forms of internet gaming since 2013. In that year, legislators debated a form of gambling expansion that allowed land-based casinos outside of the riverboat requirements. They wanted to compete with neighboring states, and they included online gambling in the bill in order to keep up with states considering doing the same. However, concerns from numerous lawmakers and the governor about online gambling prompted those sections to be removed from the bill, the entirety of which ultimately failed before the end of the year.
While Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey launched their online poker and casino game endeavors, Illinois stayed away from the subject for several years after 2013. Without enough legislator support and without sufficient revenue numbers showing success in the three states undertaking online gambling, there was not enough fodder to garner support from a majority of lawmakers.
That changed in 2017, however. Several members of the Illinois House and Senate introduced a series of bills to address online poker, online casino games, land-based casinos, and daily fantasy sports. The Senate’s online gaming bill passed through committee and through the full Senate by May of that year with a 42-10 favorable vote. However, the H.479 bill on the House side could not even find enough support to make it through the House Executive Committee.
While some thought H.479 was dead for the year in Illinois, it rose back to life in 2018 as a still-viable bill. Its sponsor, Illinois House Representative Michael Zalewski, intends to push it again in 2018, though it may take a different form in a larger gambling expansion bill. Zalewski feels that there is enough support in both houses to pass such a bill in 2018, and he insists on a sense of urgency for it in order for Illinois to keep up with states like New Jersey and now Pennsylvania, which will be entering the online poker and gaming market sometime in 2018.
The first few months of 2018 saw no movement, but Zalewski intended to handle more serious issues in the first of the year before gathering supportive members of the state legislature to push for a comprehensive gambling expansion bill.
Illinois is thought to be one of the few states with a very good chance of legalizing online poker in 2018.
Illinois Laws Pertinent to Online Poker
Gambling laws from the Illinois legislature are combined into a reference page, all taken from Chapter 38 of the Illinois Code.
It starts with a definition of gambling that encompasses numerous components, but the broadest and primary one is that
“a person commits gambling when he or she knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value, unless excepted.”
One of the pieces of that gambling definition, however, seems to pertain to online sports betting and gambling. It states that a gambler “knowingly establishes, maintains, or operates an internet site that permits a person to play a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value by means of the internet or to make a wager upon the result of any game, contest, political nomination, appointment, or election by means of the internet.” There is an exception to this rule as it pertains to the lottery. It sounds very much like the first half of the wording refers specifically to online gambling, and it makes a special point to include games of chance and skill, so no exception could be made for poker in this case.
Oddly enough, however, one of the exceptions to the rule could include online poker and casino games due to confusing wording about payments. The exception is written as: “Games of skill or chance where money or other things of value can be won but no payment or purchase is required to participate.” One could argue that the payment is simply a part of the prize pool and not a separate payment to play poker. This would create a problem with sites collecting rake, but players may find relief in this subsection.
One thing that is clarified is the meaning of internet:
“An interactive computer service or system or an information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, and includes, but is not limited to, an information service, system, or access software provider that provides access to a network system commonly known as the internet, or any comparable system or service and also includes, but is not limited to, a World Wide Web page, newsgroup, message board, mailing list, or chat area on any interactive computer service or system or other online service.”
As for gambling that is definitely legal in Illinois, there are regulations in Chapter 230 for each of the following:
- Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975
- Riverboat Gambling Act
- Raffles and Poker Runs Act
- Illinois Pull Tabs and Jar Games Act
- Bingo License and Tax Act
- Charitable Games Act
- Native American Gaming Compact Act
- Video Gaming Act
Online poker is not specifically addressed by state statutes or by the Illinois Gaming Board. However, the law has never been tested, as law enforcement officials have never intently pursued online poker players or site operators.
Disclaimer: This is not written by an attorney and is not or should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for help interpreting these laws as they pertain to any given situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can I play online poker from Illinois now?
Answer: Yes. Tens of thousands of online poker players log on to a number of sites from within Illinois’ borders. There are sites like Ignition Poker and BetOnline that offer online poker to them, and neither the players nor the operators have experienced any problems with law enforcement cracking down on the internet games.
Question: What happens if Illinois legalizes online poker?
Answer: At that point, some sites may leave the state, though they may wait until Illinois enacts the legislation and the gaming regulator drafts its official online poker regulations. When legalized online poker launches in Illinois – which could be up to a year from the passage of a new law – there will be licensed online poker providers that partner with casinos to offer games from sites like 888poker and PartyPoker. It is hard to predict how the process will be handled, but Illinois is moving slowly in even writing the latest proposal.
Question: Will PokerStars be allowed in an Illinois regulated market?
Answer: That is unclear. Early versions of online poker and internet gaming bills put a five-year moratorium on “bad actor” sites that operated in the United States after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. This would keep PokerStars out of the market for the first five years. However, since PokerStars’ return to the US via New Jersey, the site has proven to be a competitor but not a dominant site that squeezed out any other operators. There is no way to know about PokerStars’ future in Illinois until a bill is produced and passed.
Gaming Resources in Illinois