Updated: January 3, 2013 6:24AM
During the months that stretched into years before the launch of “mom and pop” video gambling in Illinois, there were high hopes on how much money would be produced for government and local businesses.
Until it came true, we were dealing with estimates and guesses. But after the opening month of video gambling in local bars, restaurants and fraternal clubs, now we know. Who knew so many people had so much money to bet?
During three weeks in October, nearly $18 million was wagered on 714 machines and gamblers lost $1.4 million. Of that, the state and the towns got $417,000 in tax revenue. The rest went to the machine distributors and the local joints, hereafter referred to as printing shops that make legal tender.
One tavern bar in tiny Round Lake Heights pulled in $28,000 with two machines and kept more than $20,000. Not too shabby. For small businesses, that cash can mean the difference between thriving and merely existing.
Keep in mind the first month’s tabulation was compiled beginning Oct. 9. It started with 61 machines in 13 locations. By the end of the month, there were 714 in 169 establishments. As of this past week, it’s 965 games at 234 sites.
Video gambling is off to a hot start, which many expected. The revenue stream will rise sharply as more places install the machines. More than 2,650 have pending license applications, and estimates are that up to 75,000 machines could be running within a year or so. What happens when the novelty wears off and players’ losses mount? Or is the golden goose immortal?
The fast start may be giving casino owners heartburn as they fret that video gambling will lure away customers, especially the slots players so key to a casino’s bottom line. And if gambling supporters get their way, five more casinos and slots at horse tracks are in our future. And what of the towns that opted out of video gambling or have local laws banning it? As they see their neighbors’ cash haul, will that test their scruples? You betcha.