Land of Casinos: Video gaming expanding rapidly in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Video gambling has expanded to more than 6,000 locations in less than three years leaving some to wonder if the state is becoming the “Land of Casinos.”

The video gambling industry reached in Illinois reached more than $1 billion dollars since it started operating in July 2012. 20,000 video terminals are operating across all 102 counties in the state. Industry advocates are calling the success a boon for Illinois businesses and state deficits, but others worry the success is coming at a high price.

Tom Hart is the general manager for Coz’s Pizza and Pub in Springfield. He said was overjoyed when the state passed video gaming. The five terminals in his restaurant bring in about $4,000 in extra revenue equivalent to an extra Friday night of business.

"They enjoy playing and it gives us another avenue to make some extra revenue we wouldn't of,” Hart said.

While businesses and the state are cashing in, lawmakers say video gaming has had an unintended consequence. State Representative Raymond Poe (R-Springfield) said he sees the terminals everywhere.

"If you want to gamble in Illinois now, go five minutes in either direction you're going to find those machines,” Poe said.

The top 10 counties include the capitol with almost 200 locations as of December 2014. While most are at bars and restaurants, about one in ten locations are some other location. Poe said he regrets voting yes.

"I think it went too far and I don't know how we get the reigns back on it now,” he said.

In a WCIA investigation, we found licenses granted to gyms, drug stores, and even a candy shop. Anita Bedell works for the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction problems as its executive director. She said the process to get a gaming license is too loose.

"They will license anyone who wants a license, so that's the problem,” Bedell said.

The state only requires a license to pour liquor for retailers. It has licensed more than 95 percent of almost 7,000 applications with more than 550 still pending. The Illinois Gaming Board approved more than 100 licenses at family locations including bowling alleys and even The People’s Choice Family Fun Center in Waukegan.

“They are very visible for children and for families to even see the machines,” Bedell said.

A new type of business has also emerged. More than 200 gaming cafes have sprouted throughout the state. Gaming cafes’ principle business is gambling while they offer food and drink. Fred Jansen owns nine “Dotty’s Cafes” in Central Illinois including in Springfield and Champaign. He says his cafe caters to a middle-aged clientele, many who are women.

"We've met expectations, but we're still trying to build toward profitability,” Jansen said.

He estimates each of his cafes will generate $200,000 in taxes each year.

“This is a solution that doesn't require taxes to be raised on the entire population or any of the population,” Jansen said.

Since July 2012, Illinois has collected almost 400 million in taxes. The rest of the more than $1.2 billion in profits were split between terminal owners and retailers at $441 million each.

But even for gaming supporters like Tom Hart at Coz's Pizza and Pub, he wonders if Illinois has gone overboard.

"My thought was it supposed to be helping independent bars and restaurants,” Hart said. “I don't think it was the original intent of where they were supposed to be."

Despite tremendous growth, more than 400 cities and towns have banned video gaming including the city of Chicago.

View the interactive map below to see how many terminal locations are in each county.


Gaming Terminal Locations Map

Highlight over a county for exact number. Data Source: Illinois Gaming Board


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