Kadner: Video gambling growth equals nine casinos
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 10:08PM
Tinley Park appears ready to reverse a long-standing ban on gambling and is considering allowing the video terminals in village businesses. | File photo
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:29AM
Video gambling has exploded in Illinois with suckers, I mean gamblers, dropping more than $175 million into the machines since they became legal a year ago in bars, restaurants, veterans halls and other establishments that sell liquor.
There now are 9,794 machines operating at 2,402 locations, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, which is the equivalent of adding nine casinos.
In January, there were 3,370 video gambling machines in operation statewide outside of casinos. By June, that number had grown to 7,920 and more than 1,800 have gone online since that time.
There are hundreds of other license applicants pending, according to the Gaming Board.
The amount of municipal tax revenue being raised, about $8 million since January throughout Illinois, may be one reason why communities such as Hazel Crest, which voted to ban video gambling, are reconsidering their decision.
Hazel Crest’s mayor has asked the village board to approve video gambling, and public hearings are planned next month to let residents have their say.
When the Legislature enacted the video gambling bill, its purpose was to give small businesses and veterans organizations an economic boost during hard times.
But an entirely new industry has emerged in recent months, video cafes, designed specifically to appeal to the gambler.
Although most of these offer food and alcoholic drinks, they’re marketed as places where suburbanites can lose their money in comfortable surroundings without being bothered by drunks.
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is so concerned about the increase in video gambling in her village that she has asked the state senator from the area to introduce legislation that could limit the number of locations.
Oak Lawn appears to be the leader in the Southland in the number of sites with video gambling, having 18 locations and 83 video machines.
In August, gamblers lost $319,338 in the machines, producing $15,966 in tax revenue for Oak Lawn and $79,834 for the state.
Bury has said that while Oak Lawn can use the revenue, she’s concerned about her suburb growing more dependent on gambling in future years and its impact on the social fabric of the community.
I’ve always been a free-market guy when it comes to legalized gambling. So long as the operations have no ties to organized crime and the machines pay off as advertised, I think they should be allowed to proliferate.
By limiting the number of casinos, all the state has done is give a small group of people a license to make lots of money.
Now, they have some competition in video gambling, and businesses in the suburbs are getting a piece of the action.
But the law of supply and demand is still being denied by elected officials, who seem to believe they can limit vice by tightly regulating it.
History has shown over and over again that merely creates a black market, a place where the criminal element can thrive and make a fortune, often resulting in violence.
The state of Illinois, in the meantime, has become addicted to gambling.
Our numbers game, the lottery, is a big business, and we have partners in other states. We have horse racing, off-track wagering and 10 casinos, in addition to all those video gambling machines,
And an effort has been underway for years in Springfield to increase the number of casinos to 15.
“We don’t need it,” say some folks, who don’t realize how badly we do.
“It’s just a few more casinos,” say others, who believe the revenue will help the state dig out of a multibillion-dollar financial hole it created by gambling with the nest egg of future retirees.
Calumet City has 12 locations that feature video gambling and 51 machines that generated $7,516 for the city in August.
Chicago Ridge, next to Oak Lawn, has 12 licensed locations with 55 machines, and people dropped $215,266 during August, generating $53,816 for the state in August and $10,763 for the village.
Oak Forest has 42 machines at nine sites, and gamblers lost $213,315 last month, resulting in $10,655 for the city. And in Blue Island, there are 16 gambling locations where gamblers lost $175,794 in August.
I can’t help wondering how many of the gamblers who put money into the video machines complain about their taxes.
I guess it’s one thing to be forced to pay taxes for roads, schools, public safety and tanks and missiles and another to voluntarily toss your money away.
In the meantime, poker, in which a player actually has some control over the odds, a game where skill can be a factor, remains illegal outside the casinos.
I guess nobody in the Legislature has a friend who wants to convert an abandoned storefront into a poker palace.
Why House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who had opposed casino expansion for years, suddenly embraced video gambling remains something of a mystery.
There are some who believe it had something to do with Joseph Berrios, the Cook County assessor and county Democratic chairman, who was a lobbyist for the Illinois Coin Operators Association.
But there’s no doubt that thousands of illegal gambling machines were available to bar patrons long before video gambling became legal.
You can find all the information about how much is being wagered on video gambling and at casinos at the Illinois Gaming Board’s website, www.igb.illinois.gov. Click on a box on the left side that reads “monthly reports” to find out how much money the casinos in your area are generating.
Under the law, just about every establishment that holds a liquor license can qualify for a video gambling license.
A town, once it approves video gambling, can only control the number of liquor licenses it allows.