Will Pritzker finally legalize poker sites in Illinois?

Online and sports gambling has been legalized in Illinois since last year. However, there’s a 24 month grace period until casinos/ sports operators can legally launch their digital products in the state.

But due to record unemployment rates, governor J. B. Pritzker has lifted said restrictions, thus paving the way for faster adoption of online sites in the state.

One sports bets operator has already gone live last month.

So the real question here is: will the governor also overturn the restrictions for online poker sites? After all, if online poker is a form gambling, should it not be treated in the same way?

Online Poker In Illinois

According to State Section Code 230.ICLS.5-40; 720.ICLS.5.28, the definition of someone gambling is:

“Knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value; or 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.”

So with this in mind, where does the state of Illinois stand in terms of online poker?

After all, the subject of online gambling is directly addressed in the law itself. This seems like a good place to start, along with a few other interesting aspects that should interest anyone looking to play online poker in Illinois.

As noted above, the act of gambling is defined as when a person “plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value.” Exceptions exist only in the form of state-approved gambling.

Right now, players violating this section are faced with a class A misdemeanor. Illinois is not known for being aggressive in its approach for tracking down people participating in illegal gambling.

So what does the law say about online gambling? Is playing online poker classed as an illegal activity?

The following section makes for interesting study:

“…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.”

No part of this section, or, in fact, any other part of the law, directly addresses playing on an “internet site” purely as a player.

As a result, there is a bit of a gray area in terms of legality. 

That said, it does not mean that all forms of online gambling are therefore explicitly legal. Wherever there’s some uncertainty, all online poker players should review the law themselves and seek legal advice if they have any other questions.

But how does online poker compare to online gambling in Illinois? 

The State Of Online Gambling in Illinois During the Pritzker Administration

The Illinois Gambling Act of 2019 made online sports betting legal in Illinois. It’s also possible to bet on horse racing online in Illinois, as long as the bets are made at either one of the state’s three horse tracks or at one of the two dozen off-track betting (OTB) locations.

As such, earlier this year, it was reported that Rivers Casino became the first online sportsbook in the state. They managed to beat the rest of the competition and were first to offer a mobile betting platform.

Considering that it may not have opened until 2022, this represents good progress. 

Illinois does not require sports bettors to sign-up for their online sports betting accounts in person – a convenience that not all other states offer.

With the majority of sports bets now being placed online, this has certainly helped get the ball rolling straight away.

One of the main benefits of legalizing online sports betting, from the state’s point of view, is that it is set to bring in even more tax dollars. The state generated over $1.4 billion in tax revenue from gambling alone in the year ended June 30, 2019. With online gambling also entering the fold, this is set to increase considerably.

This only adds to the argument that online poker should be legalized in Illinois. 

It’s also important to consider how the state government is being overwhelmed with unemployment claims at the moment, as well as suffering a stunning loss in tax revenues, which the state is trying to tackle as we speak, yet additional reasons the governor is accelerating plans for online gambling. The more people are gambling online, the more revenue will come in to fill the empty coffers.  

In his address earlier in the month, Pritzker said sports betting is important for funding “badly needed maintenance and construction work at our universities, community colleges, and state facilities.” Add the tax generated from online poker to the mix and such projects could start sooner rather than later.

To date, the new gambling expansion bill does not cover online poker, but the potential it has for increasing money for the state and its citizens cannot be ignored for much longer. The restrictions need to be lifted to put online poker on a level playing field.

Famous Illinois Poker Players

Illinois has a history of producing some excellent poker players. Texas Holdem (great intro guide here on Texas Holdem at 888poker), is the most popular version of poker in the state, played in various casinos, home-games and even local charity poker tournaments across Chicagoland. With a population of nearly 13 million people and the city of Chicago as its major hub, there’s no reason the next Texas Holdem great talent can’t come from The Prairie State and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest to ever play the game.

Perhaps the most famous of them all is Barry Greenstein. Born in Chicago, Greenstein was one of the benefactors of the poker boom in the early 2000s and made several TV appearances in some of the biggest Texas Holdem games in the US, like NBC’s Poker After Dark. 

The first World Series of Poker event was held in 1970. It’s the most prestigious poker series in the world, recognizing the best players in the world. Over the course of his career, Greenstein has won three World Series of Poker bracelets, racking up $8.2 million in winnings in the process.

Another noteworthy name is Connor Drinan who also was born in The Windy City. Drinan has earned over $11 million from live poker cash games and a further $6 million from online sessions. He is still an active player under the pseudonym “blanconegro”.

Then, of course, there’s Gordon Vayo from Bloomington, who finished runner-up in the 2016, and Darien native Gavin Griffin from Darien, who became the first ever player to win WSOP, WPT, and EPT events.

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