Larry Johnson is on the right track.
Johnson, of downtown Ottawa’s JJ’s Tap, attended the recent Illinois Licensed Beverage Association state convention in Utica and talked with Shaw Media about fears the addition of legalized sports betting in Illinois will put a further squeeze on the bar business, much the same way widespread video poker expansion put complicated wrinkles in liquor license procedures.
A sports gambling license will set you back a cool $10 million, which rules out everyone who operates a neighborhood tavern. So betting in Illinois is going to resemble the classic Las Vegas-style sports book, with walls of televisions and electronic message boards, various betting counters and likely individual terminals for in-game wagering.
That’s not going to outright kill Sunday afternoon business at the local sports bar, but it will draw away patrons who are more interested in their personal action than if the home team prevails. Johnson supports a system where bar owners can tap into a regulated phone line that allows patrons to place legal bets during games. If lawmakers are so inclined, establishing something similar would be a way to directly help small businesses in almost every community.
When Gov. Pritzker and his Democratic majority pushed through gambling expansion and recreational marijuana legalization, two leading selling points were the much-needed state revenue infusion and the potential for local-level economic development. But as the actual regulations roll out (or, in some cases, stall on the runway), it’s becoming clear how little attention was paid to the details of setting ground rules likely to generate long-term success as opposed to chasing eye-popping market entry fees and trusting the daily details would work themselves out eventually.
Johnson and his peers deserve a seat at the sports betting table. Lawmakers must figure out a way to keep local taverns involved, even if that means franchise agreements to parcel up the empire of companies that can clear the $10 million threshold.