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Customers play arcade games as we look at Illinois lawmakers pushback on the Dave & Buster's plan to allow gambling on arcade games
Customers play arcade games at Sluggers, a family-owned sports bar in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images via AFP.

Illinois lawmakers have been closely monitoring a developing desire for arcades in the state to offer betting as part of their clientele's offerings. While our best sports betting sites are good to keep operating in the Land of Lincoln, arcades' plans have ruffled a few feathers.

The plan by Dave & Buster's—and potentially other arcades—has not sat well with legislators in the Illinois sports betting scene. On Thursday, the Illinois House of Representatives gaming committee advanced legislation aimed at prohibiting “facilitating wagering" on arcade games at their facilities.

Dave & Buster’s, which owns 200+ entertainment/dining locations across North America, appears to have forced the hand of Illinois legislators. As Democratic Rep. Daniel Didech commented, “The catalyst of this legislation was a recent announcement by a prominent family arcade establishment that they intended to begin allowing real money wagering on the games in their facilities across the country.” 

While interesting that the legislation proposed against such wagering activities fails to mention Dave & Buster’s in its language, there isn’t much doubt about which company lawmakers are targeting going forward.

Dave & Buster’s plan

Dave & Busters has made it clear that it hopes to launch betting opportunities for its arcade-style business. The company plans to offer wagering opportunities to place bets on Skee-ball to take advantage of the growing and more mainstreamed legal wagering market on American soil. Numerous Illinois sports betting apps are available for those who wish to bet on real sports and not arcade-based games.

It would be the first time that arcade gaming would have a wagering angle attached to it.

Members of Dave & Buster’s loyalty program were prepping to add a real money-wagering element to their experience with the restaurant/arcade brand. Skeeball and other games at the establishment would be included, as well as a rewards program for users. It would differ from other real money online casinos.

The plan against it

Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives threw another wrench into the plan of Dave & Busters with a legislative effort to cease “facilitating wagering” on the company’s gaming options. For other companies in the state hoping to seize on the can of worms Dave & Buster’s may have opened, the language includes any “family amusement establishment.”

The legislation would include any game that would require the insertion of a coin or token to activate.

Rep. Daniel Didech broke down the potential issues with such arcade-style gambling this way, stating,  “My view, and I believe that this view is shared broadly, is that the proposed gambling activity at these arcades is for several reasons out of alignment with how responsible gambling operations should be conducted in the state of Illinois.”

Circumventing current laws?

Licensing requirements for Illinois sports betting apps are stringent. Dave & Buster’s seems to be skirting those rules and bypassing the licensing requirements for all legal gambling outlets in the Land of Lincoln. 

Rep. Didech didn’t rely on news reports about the Dave & Buster’s plan. He actually downloaded the app and discovered a couple of interesting aspects of how the company may be breaking a few laws with its new gambling feature.

First, upon sign-up and prior to placing his first “wager,” Didech was asked to confirm that he was over 18 years of age but was not asked for any verification of this. The legal age to gamble in Illinois is 21, and licensed providers are required to verify, through identification, the age of a user.

During his time with the app, Didech was also allowed to place an NBA player prop wager. Of course such an opportunity is illegal with an unlicensed, unregulated, unvetted sports betting provider. There are several Illinois sportsbook promos available for those who wish to wager on professional sports.

For now…

Legislation against arcade-style gambling has been popular among Illinois lawmakers. In fact, an amendment for House Bill 394 passed unanimously in the House by a 15-0 vote.

HB 394 has essentially become the “Family Amusement Wagering Prohibition Act," which aims to prohibit arcade-style gambling in the state except for Golden Tee and pool tournaments at local establishments.

Rep. Didech commented, “I think we want to write this broad enough that we're not inviting people looking for loopholes. How they could welcome this sort of activity on their premises without being technically in violation of the law. So I think we are writing the definitions and the prohibitions with that in mind.”

It likely won’t be the last we hear on this matter. Dave & Buster’s may challenge current laws in other jurisdictions nationwide to see if something sticks. Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania sports betting and Ohio sports betting scenes also have similar matters on their radar.

Pushing the boundaries of legal sports betting will likely continue in many forms. But as lawmakers in Illinois and a few other legal gambling jurisdictions in the country have shown, attempts to skirt certain laws will not go unnoticed.