Illinois Real Money Online Gambling Guide

Illinois is one of the most permissive states in the country when it comes to gambling, and this is especially the case given that they have legal land-based gambling in all forms, now that sports betting has now been made available in the state. Players can not only enjoy betting on sporting events now, they can also play the lottery, play bingo, play casino slots and table games, and play live poker.

In spite of all these additions, the official revenue figures from the state remain on the modest side for a state this size, where even Maine with a tenth of the population of Illinois surpasses them. While we may celebrate the recent additions, the sad truth is that Illinois remains well underserved by current legal options and the underground market remains huge.

We will examine what options players in Illinois currently have, what the state has done right, and what else they can do in order to better achieve the goal of promoting the healthy and vibrant gambling market that players in the state want and deserve.

History of Gambling in Illinois

Illinois Online Casinos and SlotsGambling in Illinois goes back to the state’s early history, to a time where the state had no laws against gambling. Riverboats offering gambling were common in the 19th century, as well as widespread land-based real money gambling.

The state making gambling illegal just drove it underground, and all this did is take gambling out of the public hand and turned it over to criminal organizations who were eager to step in and help satisfy the public’s demand for gambling.

While the public in Illinois and elsewhere generally respect the law, this is mostly because they are in favor of laws. Unpopular laws such as anti-gambling legislation are seen differently by many, where such laws may be seen as not only unjustified but represent an affront on personal liberty. If you oppose a law, you are going to be much less likely to obey it.

It is safe to say though that Illinois, in spite of their strictly prohibiting gambling in all forms at one time, has been a state that has maintained a more open mind toward it than most, and the fact that they got their first legalized gambling all the way back in 1929 is testimony to this. This was very avant-garde and Illinois actually had legal gambling two years earlier than Nevada, even though Nevada’s willingness to embrace it was definitely stronger.

Betting on the horses became a real social event in Illinois, to go alongside all of the other gambling that went on in the state that was not legal but occurred without a lot of opposition. Illinois was infamous for its high level of political corruption during this time, but it was the liberal attitude of local politicians and law enforcement that allowed all the money that changed hands to be so willingly accepted and acted upon.

Once state lotteries became in fashion in the early 1970’s, Illinois was one of the first states to jump on board. Starting in 1974, the Illinois State Lottery has steadily grown to a nearly $3 billion dollar a year enterprise.

By the time 1990 came around, Indian casinos started to pop up around the country in states that had no interest in legalizing gambling, where the tribes leveraged their federally regulated rights to offer it on their land. Illinois was not one of these states though and jumped in the game themselves with the Riverboat Gambling Act. Up until 1999, riverboats could only be docked for a total of 2 hours at a time, but after almost a decade of this, they were finally allowed to remain docked.

To this day, most of the casinos in Illinois are still over water, even though this is no longer a requirement. Their success ended up cutting into the horse race betting business, who were denied access to gambling machines once they became legal, and they are still fighting for a piece of this action.

Illinois was also at the head of the line when sports betting started to really grow after the federal government backed off with their opposition to this, and the people of Illinois can now enjoy sports betting, including placing bets online.

Illinois has shown a real eagerness to embrace gambling more than many states do, even though they aren’t quite at the front of the line yet when it comes to gambling revenues, sitting in 14th place and behind the relatively tiny State of Maine.

Illinois Gambling Laws

The intention of a government when it comes to legislating gambling is to outlaw all forms unless otherwise permitted. Good legislation both takes into account the popular forms of gambling at the time the law is written as well as future forms that may emerge, and also does not delimit itself in ways that the law may be understood not to apply, like laws that concern itself with interstate gambling and did not anticipate the world of real money online gambling.

Illinois’ gambling prohibitions capture the present and future interests of the state beautifully, with nothing at all to cling to if you are looking to understand it as permitting any form of gambling that the state does not make explicitly permissible. Laws against gambling ideally proclaim that all gambling in any form through any means is against the law, and then uses this blank slate to create a number of approved means as desired.

Illinois’ elegant gambling prohibition reads as follows:

“Section 28-1. Gambling.
(a) A person commits gambling when he or she:
(1) knowingly plays a game of chance or skill for money or other thing of value, unless excepted in subsection (b) of this section;
(2) knowingly makes a wager upon the result of any game, contest, or any political nomination, appointment, or election”

This covers it all here, games of chance, games of skill, and wagers upon any contest unless otherwise permitted. There is no wondering if a game is more skill than luck, as we run into when games of chance are prohibited but no mention is made about whether certain games like poker are games of chance or not. There is no doubt about whether the implements used can be understood as prohibited gambling devices or not, as the playing of games for money in itself is banned.

This sets a perfect stage for the state to then allow certain forms, under certain guidelines, whether that be betting on horses, playing the lottery, playing in a casino, or betting on sports. Illinois does allow all these forms, but what is legal is defined completely on their terms by virtue of their comprehensive prohibitions.

Land-Based Gambling in Illinois

The Illinois Lottery is one of the largest lotteries in the country, offering access to all the major draws. Illinois was the first state to offer the sale of lottery tickets online, something many states have yet to allow. This is just a matter of convenience, as it should be presumed that people already have the full means to purchase these tickets at the many outlets throughout the state, where online sales just make these transactions more efficient all around.

Illinois has 4 major racetracks, all but one of which is located in the Chicago area, with the fourth in the St. Louis area. Horse racing bettors can also place their bets at several off-track betting locations. The horse track lobby is strong enough in Chicago though for casinos to remain illegal in the area in an effort to protect the racetracks, who have seen a big decline elsewhere in the state.

Illinois also has 3 part-time racetracks, where occasional racing is run during times like state fairs. While there is still an appetite for horse race betting in the state, we’ve come a long way from the decades when this was the only thing you could legally bet on, and in spite of its size, the fifth most populous state in the country, its per capita appetite for gambling is not all that high.

Illinois issued 10 casino licenses back when they first legalized riverboat gambling in 1990, and these 10 licenses are still in effect, with one added nor subtracted over this time, even though a couple have moved from the water to land since.

The fact that the majority of the people in the state live in Chicagoland but none of these casinos are located there represents a lot of potential for the growth of the casino business in Illinois, and it may only be a matter of time before this changes. There is nothing on the agenda now or even close to being so at the present time though.

All 10 of Illinois’ land-based casinos are of a good size, all with at least 1,000 slot machines, with some also offering casino table games. Slots are king in this state though, and this also includes many video lottery terminals that became allowed in 2009 by way of the Video Gaming Act. This has helped fill the large gap that only having one casino per 1.3 million people, with much of it well away from most of the population.

Illinois also offers live poker at both its casinos, and in the Chicago area, through charitable games since casinos aren’t allowed. Most of the poker in the state is actually played either in the Chicago area or at the nearest casinos that attract players from Chicago, and there’s plenty of potential to expand poker in the state should the government decide.

Some of Illinois’ casinos are now offering land-based sports betting, to go along with the new online sports betting sites that the state has now welcomed. Illinois’ land-based gambling scene remains a patchwork though, in spite of the state’s relative open-mindedness. They will have to open their minds to more of this before we could ever say that Illinois’ land-based gambling market is close to being adequately served.

Illinois Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

Illinois has been open to at least having their lottery offer online tickets, and given that they allow land-based casino gaming, the state’s continued reluctance to offer online casino and poker is not based upon ideology.

There was a strong push in 2013 to bring online casino and poker to the state, but it ended up running into too much opposition and has been since shelved. Illinois is one of several states that allow state sanctioned land-based casino and poker games but do not sanction online real money casino and poker sites in their state, and the reason is that the land-based lobby is stronger than the one looking to drive change.

Lotteries aren’t seen as a threat to the state’s 10 land-based real money casinos, and even though Illinois have recently allowed for real money sports betting online, this change of heart has allowed the casinos to take advantage of this new opportunity themselves, which was an overall win for them.

Online casino sites tend to scare land-based casinos somewhat though, and this fear has been sufficient to keep this type of online gambling away. Poker represents a much smaller portion of their revenue though, which is why you see many states toy with the idea of online poker well before they will even entertain online casino sites.

The coming of real money online sports betting is also a big win for sports bettors in the state, who no longer have to wager at offshore sites to get their fix. It’s not that there is anything in place to stop them though, but having sports betting legal and regulated in your state does serve to get around all of the roadblocks that the UIGEA presents, with so many popular payment processors standing down to not run afoul of this law which makes processing these transactions related to illegal gambling against the law.

There’s no question that gambling for real money at offshore online casinos and poker sites is illegal in Illinois, and while that may not matter to players as no one has ever been charged with this, nor is it likely that anyone will given that this is not a law that is really enforceable, anyone processing your deposits and withdrawals would be at risk of prosecution provided that they were under U.S. law, which includes a lot of processors.

The ability to deposit and withdraw without having the means to do so greatly restricted is a definite advantage, although players from all over the country have been finding ways to move money in and out of online gambling sites all along, and this has been aided significantly with the recent popularity of cybercurrency.

There are many good sites that still cater to players in states which do not have regulated online gambling, which includes online players from Illinois. There a corresponding potential for the state to cash in on this should they ever choose to do so, if and when they can put the interests of certain lobbyists aside and instead pursue the interests of both the state and its players.

Future of Gambling in Illinois

The measure of success for a commercial market is when the supply rises enough to meet demand, where those who wish to engage in it are provided the means to do so in a fairly efficient manner. A city may be too small to support a land-based casino, and people still need to travel a certain distance to take advantage of all land-based enterprises, but in a free market environment, the market and not the government decides these things.

It is fine for the state to retain control of licensure, but the goal should be not to use their monopoly to the advantage of current market participants such as these 10 casino licensees by using their power to exclude further participants. There are limitations to markets being served, but this normally is at the level of saturation, not keeping the market artificially small so particular persons may benefit at the expense of others in the state and even the state itself.

This problem extends to not only restraining land-based competition, it also may be used to restrain access through other channels. If there is a demand for real money online gambling in Illinois, and the state ignores it, people will simply take their business elsewhere, with the state missing out on tax revenue as the consequence.

State officials need to first get clear on the fact that quite a bit of online gambling goes on in the state regardless of whether they sanction it or not, and existing operators also need to realize that they compete with these offshore sites regardless, to the extent that they even need to worry about such things. These aren’t the folks that should be deciding here though, and therein lies the biggest challenge to really opening up the gambling scene in Illinois.

Political change takes time though, and it is surely better to have the main impediment to the growth of this market being one of taking the needs of the people more into account with a willing public than if the roadblock is a lack of popular assent, as it is in more conservative states. Some states require a fundamental change in public opinion before they can ever even get close to where Illinois is today, but Illinois has the will, they just need more inclusive and considered ways to see it expressed.

For now at least, players in Illinois need to be satisfied with seeing progress happen one step at a time, albeit slowly. The coming of online sports betting is a step in the right direction toward full-fledged online gambling like they have in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania now, but there are only 4 states so far that have this and Illinois is far from alone in needing to improve here. Time is very likely on our side though, and when enough passes, people will likely get everything they want in the end.

Illinois Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • What does the Illinois law say about gambling?

    In many states, the law is unclear as to whether or not people can gamble online at sites outside the state’s jurisdiction legally. Illinois law prohibits the act of gambling itself in a way that it matters not the form or means of gambling, aside from the requirement that all gambling is illegal unless otherwise authorized by the state of Illinois. This includes anywhere but at a gambling portal licensed by the state.

  • Do people get arrested in Illinois for illegal gambling?

    Land-based illegal gambling remains rampant in Illinois, and this is seen as a big problem by authorities. While illegal gambling may go on unaddressed and even ignored in some places, Illinois takes an aggressive approach to illegal gambling and lead the nation in gambling-related arrests. As is the case whenever you try to fight the will of the people, busting illegal games and arresting people hasn’t put much of a dent into illegal gambling in Illinois.

  • What types of legal land-based gambling is available in Illinois?

    Betting on horse races is a long-standing tradition in Illinois that continues on even though the industry did decline when more options became available. The Illinois State Lottery remains very popular. Illinois has 10 casinos scattered throughout the state that are all of a good size, with many still over water as a reminder of a time when that was required. Other licensed slots are spread throughout the market, and you can even place sports bets at land-based casinos now.

  • What forms of gambling are available online in Illinois?

    Illinois does offer lottery tickets online as well as in person, which makes it easier for players to purchase them and serves to increase sales. They recently added online sports betting to their repertoire, but have thus avoided offering real money online poker and real money casino gambling, even though the topic has come up for discussion. Like in many states, there may be less reluctance to one day bring online poker into the fold than with casino games that are thought to compete with land-based casinos.

  • Why are there no Indian casinos in Illinois?

    For a long time, the only legal casinos in the country were in Nevada, with Atlantic City eventually joining them. The 1980s saw Indian tribes throughout the country given the legal right to build casinos on their land, in spite of the preference of the state. Most states continued their preference against this, but Illinois jumped right on board and licensed 10 riverboat casinos, seizing the market themselves.

  • Why are there still only 10 casino licenses in Illinois?

    The Riverboat Gambling Act of 1990 granted a total of 10 licenses to operators, and after all these years, there are only still 10 licenses in effect. Governments tend to make these decisions without a whole lot of regard to practicality, to whether or not the number of licenses in effect is sufficient. These decisions may instead be decided by things like upper limits of tolerance for gambling or to favor existing licensees.

  • Why is there so much illegal gambling that still goes in in Illinois?

    While Illinois has these 10 casinos plus many stand-alone gaming machines, legal gambling will only displace illegal gambling to the extent that it becomes competitive. Otherwise, they will continue to choose illegal means. Unless you live within easy reach of one of these casinos, the proximity of illegal gambling often will be decisive. This is especially in issue in Chicago where most of the people in the state live in but remain unserved by casinos.

  • What is stopping Illinois from regulating online gambling generally?

    One of the notable things about the first two states that licensed online gambling, Nevada and New Jersey, is that they both have a very large and well developed land-based casino industry, and particularly a lot of casinos that offer much more than just gambling. Illinois’ casino industry is puny in comparison and they are concerned that online gambling will cut into their business too much.

  • Can Illinois residents gamble at online casinos and poker rooms?

    In spite of the state of Illinois not offering any legal options, many Illinois residents still choose to gamble online, at real money online poker and online casino sites that are regulated elsewhere and accept Illinois residents. While playing on these sites is in violation of Illinois law, these players realize that while the authorities may be able to enforce gambling laws against land-based operations, there just isn’t an effective way to catch people gambling online.

  • Should players worry that online gambling isn’t regulated by Illinois?

    While it may be preferable to have the real money sites that you gamble on regulated locally, this is often not an option, as it is not in Illinois. While there are online gambling sites that we do need to steer clear of due to their being of an undesirable quality, as long as you know where the best places to play are, you will be in a position to enjoy top-notch real money online gambling at highly rated sites.

Associate Writer: Geoff enjoys both live and online poker as well as casino games, and is particularly knowledgeable about the legal landscape of online gambling.

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