Division I Athletic Directors Oppose Legal Betting On College Sports

Apr 25, 2019

Several of Illinois’ Division I athletic directors say they don’t want gamblers to be able to bet on college sports. Lawmakers heard from them and others Thursday in Chicago as talks continue on how to legalize and regulate sports betting. 

Larry Lyons, director of athletics at Illinois State University, represented 12 of 13 Division I programs in the state before the House Sales, Amusement & Other Taxes Subcommittee Hearing. He said he sees long-term risks and called on lawmakers to exempt college sports from a final sports betting measure.

“Student athletes will become targets of individuals seeking to alter outcome of games or gain inside information,” he said. “Professional athletes are protected and difficult to influence [and they] have layers of security around them and operate under professional contracts.”

Several states, including Kentucky, allow betting on college sports under their sports betting laws—but each have different rules and exemptions. Some will only allow wagering when a college team plays out of state and others will not allow in-game wagers. 

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Chicago, who is leading negotiations, said that could be one approach he’d like to consider. “What if we positioned the bill to say, ‘for in-state wagers of Illinois teams playing within the confines of the Illinois border, there shall be no action on that game’? Nevada has done it with Vegas teams and other states have followed suit.”

Lyons said it ultimately all comes down to the issue of protecting students and their well-being during a game. “Again — you’re talking potentially about an 18, 19, 20-year-old individual and you’re betting on what’s happening in a game. I don’t know that anybody thinks that’s a great idea for someone of that age to be part of that process,” he said.

Zalewski said he wants to continue the conversation with the athletic directors as well as with the NCAA as they move forward with negotiations.

Lawmakers also heard from technology companies and trade associations who are pushing for regulated online gaming and betting. 

In March, a group of Democratic lawmakers presented several approaches to a sports betting framework. In one, the state would allow wagering from mobile phones or computers. That would require additional regulation to make sure bets are coming from within state boundaries. 

John Pappas is with GeoComply—a company that uses geolocation data to stop illegal bets from going through. The company currently works with several states that already allow legal sports wagering. “We want to make sure here in Illinois that if you are in Lake County, in the border of Lake County, that you can wager. But if you are at the outlet malls in Kenosha, you can’t wager,” he said.

Another plan under consideration would be to allow both, in-person and mobile betting in the state. West Virginia currently has a similar model. Advocates for a mobile approach say it offers better protections and discourages underage gambling.

Lawmakers have little over one month to come to a compromise on a final plan — that's if they want to meet Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget proposal needs of $200 million from sports betting licensing fees.  

Earlier this week, lawmakers in Iowa and Indiana sent their respective governors sports betting legislation.  Both proposals include mobile betting options for gamblers.