Illinois casinos and gambling, in general, is something that has a bit of interesting history. In fact, whether casino games and their many variations are legal has been a point of contention since Illinois was even recognized as a state. Nowadays, all you need to know is that there are plenty of casinos in the state.
As far as Midwestern US states are concerned, Illinois is a gambling mecca of sorts. Though many of the sites exist in less populated areas, there are plenty of gambling options no matter what part of the state you are in.
See our complete list of recommended Illinois online gambling sites for more online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker sites that accept Illinois players.
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Hollywood Casino Aurora
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Illinois has rather lax gambling regulations and allows all the popular forms of land-based gambling. Casino games like slots, blackjack, and roulette are available at the commercial gambling establishments.
Pari-mutuel betting and charity gambling are also an option. Illinois operates its own lottery and the tickets have been available for purchase online ever since the local Lottery Act has been amended in 2009.
Despite the fact that Illinois is one of the few states that allow online lottery ticket sales, the current regulations prevent local businesses from operating intrastate iGaming sites. As a result, the local internet gambling enthusiasts are forced to stick to US-facing operators that are based offshore.
Current Illinois state law allows for no more than ten casinos to hold gaming licenses and to operate inside its borders. There are ongoing legislative pushes to expand that number significantly and to allow parimutuel sites to add table games to their offerings. As of now, those expansion efforts are still in committee and have yet to face a full vote.
By law, the ten operating casinos must be on riverboats, although in 1999 it was decided the boats no longer needed to be in motion. They are now docked, and in some cases merely sitting on a few inches of water. Those ten casinos are:
The minimum age requirement is 21. By state law, casinos are not allowed to provide free alcohol and must be closed for at least two hours per day.
Online casinos are illegal in Illinois.
The name “riverboat casino” tells you more or less all you need to know about the casino in question. Riverboat casinos are really no different than their land-based counterpart, with the one exception being that they must be situated on the water in order to comply with state law. Something else worth noting about Illinois’ riverboat casinos is that they are not able to remain open 24 hours a day.
In the early days of legalization, riverboat casinos in Illinois were forced to literally float on the river in order to be considered legal. Shortly thereafter, however, it was determined that this does not have to be the case. That is why you will notice that despite technically being labeled a riverboat casino, most that exist in Illinois are moored to the ground and not making any riverboat ventures anytime soon.
While some casinos standalone as nothing more than a gambling floor, other casinos offer hotel rooms, bars, restaurants, and other amenities. The game offering at Illinois casino resorts is about on par with what you will find at traditional land-based gaming sites. In fact, a full range of games, including blackjack, baccarat, slots, and even live poker can be found at riverboat gambling destinations. Despite the existence of casino gambling is just a bit different than what you might find on the Las Vegas Strip, any game that can be played in the Nevada desert can also be played on bodies of water in Illinois.
The push to legalize sports betting is one of the reasons online casinos are likely to remain illegal in Illinois for the time being. In the wake of the May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to set their own sports betting laws, most other gambling-related legislation has been pushed to the back burner.
Right now, sports betting remains illegal in Illinois, but its future may ultimately be decided by who becomes governor in November. Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker calls it “an important thing to consider” and a possible revenue generator. Current governor Bruce Rauner acknowledged sports betting is popular, but also said it “takes money away from folks who can least afford to lose their money.”
Any changes to the law wouldn’t come before 2019.
Daily fantasy sports (DFS) in Illinois are complicated. In 2015, Attorney General Lisa Madigan authored an opinion stating, “Playing daily fantasy sports in Illinois constitutes illegal gambling.”
She was only authoring an opinion, and it wasn’t legally binding since Illinois has no state law regarding the legality and regulation of DFS. FanDuel and DraftKings, which were already operating in the state, sued Illinois to get it to declare them legal. That lawsuit has since been withdrawn, as legislation seemed to be favoring legalization.
That legislation has since died, so there still remains no laws that specifically address DFS. FanDuel, DraftKings, Yahoo, and FantasyDraft all continue to operate in the state.
Horse racing has a long and rich tradition in Illinois, with the first Chicago-area racetracks dating back to the 1930s. The number of venues has gotten smaller in recent years, but three longtime racetracks continue to operate full schedules.
Hawthorne Racecourse (Cicero, IL) runs from January to December, alternating between harness and thoroughbred racing. They also offer simulcast racing from around the country seven days a week.
Arlington Park (Arlington Heights, IL) offers thoroughbred racing from the beginning of May to the end of September. There is also simulcast racing the rest of the year.
Fairmount Park (Collinsville, IL) offers thoroughbred racing from April through September. They offer simulcast racing the rest of the year, seven days a week.
The Illinois Horse Racing Act of 2016 also allows for these three racecourses to operate a set number of off-track betting (OTB) locations. Hawthorne currently operates ten of a possible 16, Arlington Park has 11 of a possible 18, and Fairmount Park runs three OTBs of their legally allowed allotment of nine.
Greyhound racing is illegal in Illinois.
Online poker in Illinois is illegal, like all online casino games. Of the ten brick-and-mortar casinos in the state, seven of them offer live poker rooms:
Chicago Charitable Games (CCG) also offers live poker tournaments throughout the Chicago area for as little as $20. To play poker at the above casinos, you must be at least 21 years old. To join one of the CCG games, the minimum age requirement is 18.
Illinois began conducting a legal lottery in 1974 that has been operating ever since, despite a brief hiccup in 2015 when payouts of greater than $25,000 were suspended due to lack of funds. Along with a variety of scratch-off instant-win games, Illinois offers the following draws:
One thing that makes the Illinois lottery unique is the ability to purchase tickets directly online, something the state first began to offer in 2001. You must be at least 18 years old and an Illinois resident to purchase tickets online.
All wins of less than $600 can be redeemed at local lottery retailers, provided they have the funds. For wins of over $600, a claim form must be mailed to Illinois Lottery offices in Springfield.
Bingo is legal in Illinois, as laid out in the Bingo License and Tax Act. It allows a bingo license to be purchased for a non-refundable $200 annually to any “religious, charitable, labor, fraternal, youth athletic, senior citizen, educational or veterans organization in Illinois which operates without profit to its members.”
Finding one of these bingo games should be fairly easy. According to NationwideBingo.com, there are 580 bingo halls operating in the state, although the exact figure no doubt changes on a fairly regular basis.
The history of Illinois casinos can be traced back to the early 1800s when many East Coast states began illegalizing the games thanks to their being viewed as a detriment to society in general. As states along the eastern seaboard began doing this, casino-style gambling, along with betting on horse and dog races, began moving westward and found a home in Illinois. By the mid-19th century, there were plenty of racetracks around the Chicago area and a burgeoning riverboat gambling business that called the Mississippi River its home.
After the Civil War, the riverboat gambling industry in Illinois had all but ceased to exist, but gambling still happened all throughout the state. The unfortunate part of this is that with the early 1900s came the Prohibition-era in the United States, which basically made all forms of gambling illegal. What this really worked to do was exasperate already-growing organized crime.
As far as casino gambling as we know it today is concerned, that did not make an official appearance in Illinois until the early 1990s, when state legislators passed a law approving riverboat gaming sites. The main impetus behind the move to legalize riverboat gambling was the fact that Iowa had done the exact same thing already. Fearing, as many states do, that state tax revenue would cross the border into Iowa, Illinois lawmakers voted to approve a measure that allowed the state to license 10 riverboat gambling sites. Since this law was first passed in the 1990s it has not changed at all. To this day there are only 10 licenses available and all 10 of them are spoken for. Despite there being multiple moves made to expand the scope of casino gambling in Illinois, these have not gotten very far.
The only real advancement as far as gambling in Illinois is concerned is that, in 2009, a law was passed that made it legal for places like truck stops and bars to offer a limited quantity of video poker machines. It took 3 years, but in 2012 the aforementioned sites began playing host to video poker and its many variants. This may not seem like an entirely big deal, but the fact of the matter is that video poker existing in bars is something that many states have spent many years unsuccessfully trying to authorize. Pennsylvania, to this day, still has lawmakers working on ways to get video poker into bars and restaurants. All told, Illinois is a great place for gambling. Even though the idea of riverboat gambling might throw you off at first, you will quickly realize that most riverboat casinos are more like traditional land-based establishments than anything else.