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State leads nation in non-casino slots

GALESBURG – Illinois offers more locations to gamble and more machines to play than Nevada – and every other state in the nation.

The state boasts 30,384 machines in 6,834 locations. Nevada comes in a distant second with 18,996 machines in 1,984 locations. Only eight states have legalized video gambling outside of casinos: Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, Pennsylvania, along with Illinois and Nevada. Illinois became the leader in video gaming in just over 6 years, after the first machines went into bars and parlors in 2012. And that’s without Chicago joining the video gaming movement.

According to the Illinois Gaming Control Board, patrons lost nearly $1.5 billion in 2018 at video gambling terminals statewide, which became revenue for the state, local municipalities, establishment owners and machine owners.

“At the end of 2018, terminals were averaging $140 per machine per day in revenue (player losses) compared to $131 in 2017, an increase of 6.4 percent,” the state’s 2018 report said.

The number of establishments, slot machines and money wagered continues to grow.

It was May 2009 when the statehouse and then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Jobs Now! bill, which paved the way for video gambling terminals in Illinois. It passed the Illinois House by a vote of 86-30.

Slot machines multiply quickly

Municipalities have the option of not allowing video gambling terminals in their communities.

The issuing of a liquor license then becomes a review hurdle for an establishment seeking to operate in a municipality.

According to the Committee on Governmental Forecasting and Accountability, 62.7 percent of the state’s population now lives within communities that allow video gaming, up from 55.2 percent in 2016. Chicago does not allow the machines and makes up 21 percent of the state population.

Statewide, a ProPublica report found that in 2017 video gambling players lost $1.2 billion and the state’s take was about $300 million. Cities and towns home to video gambling received about $60 million. Terminal operators and establishments took in $840 million.


Illinois has a set breakdown of revenue from video gambling terminals: 30 percent goes to the state, 34.63 percent goes to the establishment and another 34.63 percent goes to the terminal owner. Of the 30 percent that goes to the state, only 5 percent goes to the city. Of the other states where video gambling outside of casinos is legal, only one, Montana, at 15 percent, receives a smaller percentage of revenue from video gaming.

Spending on addiction declines

The influx of revenue from gambling has not improved the state’s effort to deal with gambling addiction.

ProPublica found that in 2016, Illinois ranked 28th out of 40 states nationally in per capita funding for addiction services, according to the most recent survey from the National Council on Problem Gambling. The Illinois Council on Problem Gambling is part of the National Council – and both nonprofits take no position on legalized gambling.

The sponsors of the Video Gaming Act estimated licensing and administrative fees would reach $6 million a year and promised 25 percent or $1.5 million of that, would be set aside for addiction services. Licensing and administrative fees have never amounted to more than $4.2 million. As a result, the Legislature has never appropriated more than $1.03 million for problem gambling.

ProPublica dug through records and found the Department of Human Services – charged with funneling grants to providers – has struggled to spend the money. In 2012, for instance, DHS spent 83 percent of the funds appropriated for gambling addiction, according to DHS financial reports and figures from the comptroller’s office. By 2017, the percentage had dropped to 63 percent.

DHS officials told ProPublica that providers have had trouble getting gambling addicts to seek treatment and there are not enough clinicians in the state who specialize in gambling addiction.

Sports betting

Now, as the attention shifts to another capital bill, the focus is again on a possible expansion of gambling. That would mostly involve how to bring about sports betting in Illinois, which was made possible by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

A study was released about 2 months ago that looked into policy options and fiscal impacts of Illinois legalizing sports betting.

“Allowing Illinois residents and visitors to gamble on sports would spur economic activity, shrink the black market, and generate new state tax revenues,” the study found.

“However, the tax revenues from sports betting will not solve Illinois’ fiscal issues and should be weighed against the potential costs of gambling addiction.”

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