Illinois Could Make Widespread Gambling Changes

Illinois is considering changes to local gambling laws in a bid to generate much-needed cash for state funds.

With the state of Illinois struggling financially, it is looking for ways to boost its income. One of the solutions being bandied about is the expansion of the current gambling laws to allow new casinos and expanded gambling offerings throughout the region.

History of gambling in Illinois

Illinois’ current gambling laws are somewhat restrictive. In 1991, it was just the second state in the country to legalize riverboat casinos.

Among other things, the nine floating casinos operating in the region (only nine licenses are available) are somewhat crippled by some of the highest state taxes in the country.

The riverboat casinos offer solid, ever-popular gambling activities like roulette, blackjack, and slots. You have to be over 21 to play in these casinos.

Other forms of gambling legal in the state include video gaming terminals, pull tabs, raffles, bingo, the state lottery, and pari-mutuel wagering.

In 2012, video gaming terminals were given the green light to be located in restaurants, bars, truck stops, and establishments with a liquor license. The revenue the state receives from these offerings goes towards projects aimed at capital improvement.

While there is no dog racing in the state, there are seven different racetracks where you can place a variety of bets.

The state lottery, which is open to players over 18, was established in 1975. There are two drawings per day, and players can take part in multi-state lottery games like Mega Millions.

Illinois was the first state in the country to legalize online lottery ticket sales back in 2012. To date, the lottery has raised $18bn (£14bn), with resulting funds going towards infrastructure in the state, such as schools, and helping out some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Calls for gambling expansion

Lawmakers in the state are now looking at expanding the current scope of gambling laws substantially in order to improve the financial situation in Illinois, which has been somewhat precarious in recent times.

A joint hearing on the matter took place between the Senate and House committees. Proposals included the addition of six more casinos, further expansion of existing casinos, and the installation of slots terminals at the state’s horse racing facilities.

This proposal passed in the Senate in 2017, but the House has yet to vote on it.

A further amendment proposed by the House on this issue would allow race courses to offer table games as well as slots terminals. They also called for further off-track betting parlors to be sanctioned and for an increase in the cap on the number of video terminals located at private businesses.

A hearing on the topics of sports betting and fantasy sports is due to take place in October. With many states legalizing sports betting or looking to do so soon, this would be another useful tool for the state when it comes to raising revenue.

Of course, over the years many similar bills and proposals have been put forward only to be rejected at one level or another. Some bills even managed to pass votes, but ended up being vetoed and ultimately not introduced.

However, indications suggest this time could be different because of recent calls for further capital construction, which of course needs to be paid for from somewhere.

Many see an expanded gambling sector as the ideal revenue driver for these projects. It is likely that no extreme developments will take place until 2019.

Research from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) has sounded some warning shots about this potential expansion. In each of the previous six years, the revenues for the casinos in the state have declined.

Casino revenue is dropping while video gaming terminal revenue is rising. COGFA estimated that the addition of six casinos would lead to state revenue in the region of only $12m (£9.3m) annually because of lower tax rates introduced as part of the amendment.

Proposed amendments would also introduce increased video gaming terminal taxes, which would see further revenue of $104m (£80.7m) added to the state coffers.