Illinois’ in-person sports gambling rule could send people to offshore sports books, industry player warns

When Illinois residents begin to place bets on sporting events this year, an online gaming venue official warned that in-person registration restrictions could push people to illegal, offshore gambling outlets.

A number of states already offer legal sports wagering. Illinois officials have said they plan to roll out a sports wagering program before the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament begins in March.

But illegal, offshore gambling sites already are available anywhere with an internet connection. Unlike Illinois’ new gambling laws, those sites won’t require gamblers to leave the couch.

For 18 months, sports wagering in Illinois must first be registered inside of casinos and racetracks and other establishments that will have some of the first sports betting licenses, something Yaniv Sherman, head of commercial development at online gambling service 888 Holdings, said will impede the new market from swaying people away from offshore gambling sites.

“If you’re sitting at home, you have the choice of betting with an illegal operator or driving 45 minutes into a casino and registering a bet on your mobile device, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

He pointed to the differences between New Jersey, which immediately opened up online wagering, and New York and Rhode Island, which limited their programs in a way similar to Illinois.

“Retail is just a lot smaller, the way casinos are located,” Sherman said. “They’re deliberately placed outside of the metro areas.”

His organization is interested in offering services to Illinois residents, but plans to wait until the moratorium nears an end to consider it. It would be vying for one of the three allowable online-only licenses the Illinois Gaming Board has yet to release. The 18-month delay stems from a 2015 decision by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel had broken state law when they offered their services to Illinois residents.

Sherman said many of these offshore gambling organizations have become so ubiquitous that they’re looked at as a part of the legal gambling industry.

News broke last week of a federal indictment of several Illinoisans accused of operating an illegal offshore gambling ring. One of the accused is Casey Urlacher, mayor of Mettawa in Lake County and brother of Hall-of-Fame Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

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