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Growth of slot machines ‘unimaginable’

GALESBURG – Don Moffitt was poised to take a sip from a cup coffee Wednesday morning when he heard the latest video gaming numbers and shook his head.

In 2018 there were 30,384 video gaming terminals in Illinois. They can be found at 6,834 locations across the state.

“It’s the promise of revenue,” said the Republican from Gilson who spent 24 years as District 74’s elected official in the Illinois House of Representatives.

“Cities and municipalities are starved for revenue. It was the most powerful selling point of video gaming. The chance to collect revenue at the local level drives so much of this.”

Moffitt witnessed the birth of video gaming in this state – but admitted today’s availability of machines was “unimaginable” in 2011 or 2012.

“This is beyond anything anyone ever imagined – at least the representatives I knew,” he said. “The numbers are just incredible. Video gambling has expanded faster than I ever expected.”

“Honestly, it’s bigger than I ever imagined. Much, much bigger.”

According to Moffitt, bigger has been better. And bigger has, in his words “a serious downside.”

He recalled his view of the history of the state’s wrangling over gambling.

“When I took office in 1993, any talk of gambling was about riverboats,” Moffitt said. “And there was always talk about expanding riverboat gambling – communities wanted those riverboats.

“And the interesting thing about that discussion at that time was the existing riverboat owners really fought against expansion. Their reasoning was simple: They felt the revenue generated by gambling would be split up – they clearly thought the gaming population wouldn’t expand and they would just be competing for an existing number of gamblers.”

Moffitt said the explosion of electronic gaming is so troubling because it makes it clear more people are choosing to gamble.

“I was concerned at the time video gaming was introduced – and I was against expanding gambling,” Moffitt said. “I was concerned about the dollars it could take out of the pockets of residents. I had the thought that the greater availability might hit the wallets of people who could least afford it.

“I ended up voting for the video gambling – because of the revenue possibilities for cities and towns all over Illinois. But this kind of availability, all across the state, this was something I did not anticipate.”

Moffitt did not sound an alarm for banning video gaming terminals.

“I think we have to recognize – and hope – the vast majority of people who play the machines are simply using them as a form of entertainment,” he said.

“And if you’re going to have it, I think the state taxing it is important. It is a revenue stream. And cities getting a share makes that revenue even more valuable.”

Moffitt said he would like to see gambling revenue put toward greater funding of public safety or lowering property taxes.

“Those are my ideas,” Moffitt said. “The bottom line is I would like to see cities get more of the revenue and I trust local governments to spent it wisely.”

The former state representative said any change in the revenue sharing would “cause a serious fight.”

“The state wants its share. And the gaming people want their share. And the establishments certainly want the share,” Moffitt said. “But I think the fight would be worth it because cities will feel the brunt of gambling.

“This is going to have another kind of impact on communities.”

Moffitt pointed to the $26.4 million put into Galesburg’s 150 video gaming terminals last year. And to the $7.3 million in losses.

“I’m not naive and no else should be. This is a great revenue stream and it’s going to help businesses. It’s not good for some people,” Moffitt said. “We know some people get addicted to gambling. Just this week, over in Iowa, they are talking about setting aside some gambling revenue to help those with gambling addiction.

“For most people this is entertainment. But for some others, gambling is maybe missing a car payment. Or not buying a child shoes. While we talk about revenue, I think we should keep that in mind.”


©2019 The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill

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