Video Gambling Machines Stir Up Yet Another Round of Controversy in Illinois

While Illinois is by no means the worst state when it comes to gaming legislature, it’s certainly notorious for excruciatingly slow rollouts, bad ideas, and overall ignorance when it comes to the feasibility of some of their laws. Such was the case with sports betting, which was officially legalized on March 9, 2020. Governor JB Pritzker came under a lot of criticism for the haphazardly executed rollout, but another problem looms over the horizon.

On a state-wide level, many venues, mostly small in size, are adopting the use of video gambling machines (VGMs). The Chicagoan suburb of Rolling Meadows has faced criticism from its own city council members, as the lack of VGM is the Windy City has resulted in this, and many other towns, seeing a boom in this form of gambling. As a result, a fiery debate was kickstarted.

Patching Up Financial Losses

A major problem for the gambling industry in Illinois is Chicago’s refusal to align itself with the rest of the state. The foremost example of this is the ban on casinos within city limits, which was a stance exploited by many surrounding towns and communities who have ‘snatched’ the vacant piece of the Illinois gaming pie. They have done so because of the dire state of the casino industry in Illinois.

Since 2013, the total revenue from the 10 casinos within the state has declined each year. One reason for this is Illinois’ old weakness – bureaucracy. Many willing investors and entrepreneurs are effectively discouraged by the amount of legal and financial hurdles they need. For instance, last year’s hyped race for a license, which saw as many as eight potential candidates, was put to a halt because it was calculated that the new operator would have to pay 72% of their total revenue in the form of taxes and other expenses.

With the lack of interest from investors being more apparent with each day, the city of Chicago is seriously thinking about completely abandoning the casino idea and considering to focus on VGMs only. These gaming terminals don’t require such grandiose facilities such as casinos, and they’re taxed at a much lower rate than traditional slots and other games.

A worthy example of successful VGM implementation is Pennsylvania, with the state earning $300,000+ in taxes during the first month of these terminals being operation. One could only hope that Illinois has the same fate, but those opposing VGMs are vocal enough to halt this progress.

Limitation and Regulation

Kevin O’Brien, an Alderman in Rolling Meadows, proposed that his city introduced a limit on the number of VGMs a business can offer. As of April 2020, there are ten venues offering these machines, with two more waiting for a license. O’Brien also proposed those strip malls ought to have just one business offering VGM gambling. His comments are just a few in a sea of back-and-forths between the anti-VGM people and their ideological opposition.

Many city council members throughout Illinois deem VGMs as a potential threat to the casino industry, as operators and developers often bring new jobs and hundreds of millions of revenue with them. As we all know, these ‘sweeteners’ are just what politicians need if they want something to base their reelection campaign on.

Still, with the struggles of Illini casinos, VGMs are becoming a suitable alternative for everyone looking to enter the gaming industry. We might see a complete takeover if the Windy City decides to lift its ban on video gambling, but that’s just wishful thinking from a current perspective.

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