A Tidal Wave of Slot Machines Hits Illinois


A tidal wave of slot machines called VLTs has hit the towns and casinos of Illinois.  None of the casinos have been sunk yet, but they are taking in water.  In 2009, the then governor, Patrick Quinn signed into law the Illinois Video Gaming Act, legalizing the operation of video gambling machines in “any licensed retail establishment where alcoholic liquor is drawn, poured, mixed, or otherwise served for consumption on the premises,” including bars, truck stops, fraternal and veterans organizations throughout the state.  The governor planned to use the new-found wealth to finance a huge construction budget.  Unfortunately for him the process took too long and he was out of office before the money started to trickle in.  But looking on the bright side, at least he escaped without going to prison, unlike his predecessor Rod Blagojevich.

But back to the VLTs, the first went into operation in September 2012; that first month there were only 61 VLTs in 13 locations. One year later there were 10,210 VLTs in 2,469 locations; the next year there were 18,412 VLTs and 4,516 locations. In 2015 the number of VLTs had increased to 21,509 VLTs and in 2016 the total number of establishments reached 5600 with 24,065 VLTs.  That is pretty dramatic growth by any standard.

However, the rate of expansion appears to be slowing and opposition has increased.  With over 5000 video gaming casinos scattered around the state, people are beginning to take notice and not everyone is pleased.  For four years, most people ignored the spread of the games. But now, people are beginning to take notice; they are asking, “What is going on here and why are there slot machines everywhere?” That new-found awareness has led to a legislative trend; towns and cities are taking steps to limit the number of locations and total number of games.  In the last few months, at least three towns have passed laws to limit the number of locations within their limits.

The Carbondale City Council voted Tuesday to limit the amount of video game machines to 100. There are currently 17 locations with 74 terminals licensed gaming terminals with four other locations with pending applications with the Illinois Gaming board. Associated Press, 9-22-16

Fearing a proliferation of businesses offering video gambling, the Oak Forest City Council approved changes Tuesday to ordinances on what entities can provide the devices. Aldermen had said they feared too many businesses were trying to locate in Oak Forest under the premises of being restaurants when all they were really doing was offering opportunities for people to use video gambling.    Gregory Tejeda, Daily Southtown, 9-14-16

Huntley has imposed a moratorium on allowing new video gambling establishments until Jan. 1 so officials can prepare regulations now that the village has home-rule powers. Video gambling venues have been allowed in town since June 2012. But without home-rule authority the village could not then impose rules more restrictive than what is allowed by state law. Huntley’s latest population count surpassing the 25,000 population limit that automatically grants Illinois municipalities home-rule authority..  Madhu Krishnamurthy, Daily Herald, 9-16-16

There are still many communities in Illinois that do not have VLTs.  It is estimated that 45 percent of the cities and towns that are eligible have not yet authorized any.  But that could change and then there might be as many as 40,000 units in the state.  At the moment, only the communities with video gaming are showing concern. owns without any VLTs are still being tempted by the promise of easy money. Undoubtedly the nature of dialogue is changing, but the spread of VLTs will continue for at least another year, or maybe two. It has been slowed but not stopped.

Even if the spread of VLTs did stop, they have already caused havoc with the state’s casinos. In September 2012, casino revenue was $137.7 million and growing, while in September 2016 it was $114.9 million and shrinking. In that same four year period, VLT revenue went from $91 thousand to $91 million.   Unfortunately, there are no life rafts for the casualties from the VLT tidal waves.  The state makes more money, the businesses with VLTs make more, but the casinos make less, much less.

 Illinois is not alone in the VLT business; Louisiana and South Dakota have a slew between them and efforts are underway in Pennsylvania and Indiana to legalize VLTs.  In four years, Illinois has collected nearly a billion dollars in fees and taxes and that makes a powerful argument for any state in need of more tax revenues.   In Illinois and other states which may follow suit, there is already too much competition from surrounding states,- no one needs any more.  Those VLTs are on a slippery slope, but one that is very attractive for lawmakers looking for money.  After all that is how Illinois got from being a very cautious, conservative state that allowed casinos only on riverboats, limiting the number of licenses and the number of  slot machines each could have to the wild and wooly state it is today with slot machines everywhere.  The governor wanted money to build his pet projects.  He is gone, his projects forgotten and all that is left are 26,000 slot machines changing the nature of Illinois communities and sinking the state’s casinos.

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