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Illinois Rep. Zalewski On DFS: "Need To Get Out of the Business of Banning Things"

Mike Zalewski

The 2016 iGaming North America Conference took place this week, and one of the panels on Tuesday, called "Emerging Jurisdictions," involved New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and Illinois State Representative Michael J. Zalewski. The two provided insight into the legislation progress of both online poker and daily fantasy sports (DFS) in their respective states.

You can read Pretlow's insight into the status of things in New York by clicking here, but as for Illinois, Zalewski focused most of his statements on DFS and not poker.

We just need to get out of the business of banning things that we know we're never going to eradicate.

"We've now been at this part a good six or seven months of trying to work through the various challenges of how to craft the proper daily fantasy sports bill," Zalewski said. "I've come to know that what's good for DraftKings and FanDuel might not necessarily be good for a smaller fantasy site operator."

Zalewski believes Illinois to be "blessed" with the amount of small fantasy sports operators and companies that work with fantasy sports operators in the sense that it makes the issue as much of a small-business issue as it does a larger, big-business, corporate endeavor. He also said that he is going to hold off on a hearing regarding the Illinois DFS bill because he wants to first propose a significant amendment.

"We're in the same posture as New York, where the companies have basically agreed that come June 'we're either in or we're out,'" Zalewski said. "So I feel an abundance of pressure to get this done and I'm hopeful that my colleagues, once they see the work we've put into it, will agree with me and try to get some sponsors and get some votes on the bill to advance it forward."

In terms of handicapping an approval, Zalewski wasn't nearly as confident in providing a number as Pretlow was with his Secretariat comments, but he's still positive that he'll get something done.

"Wow, that's a tough one," he said. "Illinois is in an epic battle over our budget. We haven't had a budget since last year. If these were normal times, I would be with Assemblyman Pretlow and I would say that it would be better than even money, because I think that there would be enough to assure passage. I think without a budget in this kind of weird budget we're in, I would say it's more of 5- or 6-1. I think that I'm confident and I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can because I think that this is an important policy issue... I'm confident we'll get a bill to the governor's desk.

"I'll be best served if I get a bill out by May 31."

Zalewski Believes DFS Is More Nuanced

"We're well aware we've got some opponents," Zalewski admitted when asked about opposition. But, just as Pretlow did when he spoke, Zalewski said this opposition was nothing more than the normal anti-gambling folk that has always been around. It didn't seem he was too worried about this opposition.

Zalewski did say there was some opposition to the prominence DFS legislation has risen to within the state. But this is something that could likely be said for all states. Whereas online gaming has been a conversation had to some extent for quite some time now, DFS has quickly taken over all of the chatter, with over 30 bills being introduced in the past six months — far greater than anything the broader scope of online gaming has produced. Zalewski said that many consider DFS gambling, and when the state can’t come to a determination to move forward with gambling in general, why should they all of a sudden push forward with DFS?

Zalewski himself said that he feels DFS is a little more nuanced.

"There's a nuanced but real difference between what's been historic gambling in Illinois and other states and what DFS is, which is sort of a different occupier space in a 21st century economy," he said.

Keeping It Simple and Understanding the Challenges

In regards to such things as interstate pooling, Zalewski said he believes it to be beneficial to keeps thing simple at first, which means no introduction of shared liquidity to start. He feels the less his colleagues have to swallow with a bill, the better.

"We need to not bite off more than we can chew," Zalewski said.

Speaking to the biggest challenges faced to passing a DFS bill in Illinois, Zalewski said the first thing is explaining what daily fantasy sports are and how they work. The second challenge he named was overcoming the institutional gaming oppositions. He also pointed out the importance of not banning things because that has be shown through history to not work.

"I'm not necessarily worried about the traditional anti-gambling forces in Illinois," he said. "I frankly think that as policy makers in general we're coming to a conclusion that we can't ban things. It doesn't work. It didn't work with Prohibition. We're slowly learning that it doesn't work with things like cannabis. We just need to get out of the business of banning things that we know we're never going to eradicate. Instead we need to do our best as policy makers to figure out smart, sensible regulations that make sense as policy makers and make sense to our constituents."

Lastly, Zalewski said that the fact that it's an election year would be an issue "a little."

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  • Illinois Rep. Zalewski on DFS: "Need to get out of the business of banning things."

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