Gaming laws in Illinois are changing. Recent legislative action means more casinos, more sports betting, and more kiosk action could be coming to a neighborhood near you.
Supporters of the shift say gambling revenue is critical for financial health. Each bet placed could help the state pay back debts, repair infrastructure, and more. And new projects could boost employment and tax income.
But some people worry about how much money gamblers will lose. And others point to real risks posed by gambling addiction.
How Is the Law Changing?
Illinois has allowed some forms of gambling for years. You could head to a racetrack and bet on a horse, and you could plop down in front of a machine in some small mom-and-pop shops.
But if you wanted to gamble at a destination casino, or you wanted to place massive bets with thousands of your friends, you had to go out of town. Legislative changes could make that travel obsolete.
Reporters explain that a new Illinois gaming law signed in June 2019 would:
- Cause a casino-building boom. Six new ones would be built, including a facility located within Chicago.
- Let casinos host more people. The number of betting positions would rise from 1,200 to 2,000. The Chicago casino could have 4,000.
- Legalize sports gambling. Bets could be placed at casinos, race tracks, sports arenas, and more.
- Boost video gambling bets. Max bet limits would rise from $2 to $4. Facilities can pop in more machines too. Race tracks can also put gambling tools in their facilities.
This legislation is relatively new, and it’s hard to know exactly how much the gambling industry will grow.
But analysts say that by 2021, Illinois can expect:
- 5 so-called “racinos,” in which people can bet on race tracks and do video gambling at the same time.
- 16 casinos.
- 5,000 sports-betting kiosk locations.
- 7,000 video gambling locations.
The legislation could also allow for online-only forms of betting, which could mean every phone in Illinois could offer some type of gaming opportunity.
You will have to be at least 18 to take advantage, so kids can’t play along. But most experts suggest these changes could result in a big boom in betting within the state.
More Changes May Be Coming
Bills have been signed, and laws have gone into effect. But more work must be done to ensure that all runs smoothly. And legislators are already learning that the bill they designed may not do everything they hoped.
For example, a study was the first part of approving new casino operators. Administrators wanted to know which location would deliver the biggest revenue boost, and they wanted to learn more about community impact. In August 2019, that report was released, and the news wasn’t positive.
Analysts said Illinois tax structure made casinos a poor business opportunity. Owners of the casinos could expect profits in the single digits, and that was likely to make many entrepreneurs back out.
Agreeing to get a license, designing a building, hiring staff, and launching marketing are huge steps that all require risk. Few companies will do that work without the promise of money waiting on the other side.
That report could prompt legislators to make tax shifts. Or they may choose to stay put and make changes when they don’t get bids on the casino projects.
Similarly, laws regarding sports betting aren’t yet implemented, reporters say. The board is creating an application process for licenses, and rules about how to process those applications haven’t been written yet.
There is no deadline for the board to issue licenses, so it’s not clear when the first will open. It’s also not clear if the rules will change before licenses are issued.
Why Gambling May Help Illinois
Illinois needs money to repair infrastructure, fund critical programs, and pay debts. Gambling could, in theory, help officials to raise the funds they need. That could keep the state afloat and affluent, and it could encourage more residents to move in and call Illinois home.
Gambling could raise money through:
- Licenses. Organizations must bid to become casino operators. Each one could bring between $200 million and $300 million to the state, reporters say, although that price is an estimate.
- Employment. Contractors must design and build new facilities. Once they’re built, casinos will need staff. Each employee is a potential taxpayer, and that could mean less unemployment and added money in income and property taxes.
- Ongoing revenue. Video gambling machines are taxed at 30 percent. That money goes directly to the state to use for critical projects.
- Tourism dollars. Big, shiny casinos can be a draw for out-of-town visitors. If they come to the state to play and spend, they could add money to Illinois coffers willingly.
Every state needs more jobs and more money. If Illinois can solve this problem through gambling, some people think that’s a fine solution.
Why Gambling May Harm Illinois
Few people want Illinois to step away from a source of revenue and employment. But some people worry about who will hold the bill for the money casinos can deliver. And others fear that gambling will cause long-term damage the state isn’t prepared to repair.
Before the casino legislation passed, Illinois residents lost a great deal of money on gambling. In 2017 alone, losses totaled $4 billion.
Gambling may seem fun, but the games are rigged in favor of the owners. It’s rare for people to walk away earning more than they have lost. Some fear that the revenue generated from gambling will come straight from the pockets of Illinois residents.
Others worry about gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling says about 1 percent of American adults qualify for a diagnosis of pathological gambling. While casinos don’t technically cause these problems, having them nearby certainly isn’t helpful.
According to Mayo Clinic, signs of problem gambling include:
- Preoccupation. You feel the need to gamble almost constantly, and you’re always looking for ways to get more play money. You may commit crimes to get funds, or you may ask family members or friends to help.
- Tolerance. You need bigger wins to get the thrill a small payout once delivered.
- Persistence. You try to reduce your gambling. You may even try to quit. But you can’t make it stick. You feel restless or angry when you’re not playing.
- Avoidance. You use gambling to help you stop thinking about issues that upset you.
- Deception. You try to cover up your losses by gambling more, to win back the missing amount. You lie to family members and friends about your gambling.
Researchers say an addiction to gambling is very similar to an addiction to drugs. Both involve a hit of dopamine deep within brain cells. Whether you take a shot of whiskey or win $10, the dopamine release is the same.
In time, your mind relies on that dopamine to function properly. Without it, you feel jittery and irritable. And you may be at risk for relapse without help.
Gambling addiction treatment programs may help you control your urge to chase a win. With help, you may walk by an Illinois gambling opportunity without feeling tempted to take advantage. But these legislative changes could mean you’ll need more willpower, as you’ll be walking by many of these facilities every day.