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In 2009 Illinois legislators signed into law the Video Gaming Act which legalized video gambling and paved the way for rapid and massive installation of such machines across the state. These machines were supposed to solve the state’s woeful finances—instead, a decade later, the state has lost over $1 billion on video gambling and has opened the gates to a flood of new problems—including a whirlwind rise in gambling addiction—that underfunded municipalities must now address. Nevertheless, more states are preparing to embrace video gambling machines as the solution to their budget problems.

According to a ProPublica Illinois investigation, in October, 2018, Illinois lawmakers met with gambling executives and lobbyists at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas to discuss the possibilities of gambling expansion in Illinois—including the introduction of video gambling in Chicago, the only city in Illinois as of now where it remains illegal. But the state seems to have its eyes on the jackpot instead of the crises that video gambling entails.

The machines were projected to generate $300 million a year, but they didn’t come close to that until 2017, nearly a decade after their installation. By then, the state had borrowed billions of dollars against the projected revenue from video gambling and was $1.3 billion short of what it had anticipated.

Video gambling machines take away revenue from state-run casinos which fund education. From 2013 to 2017, education funding dropped by $70 million in Illinois. The state is also spending less on addiction services than it was before the Video Gaming Act. And it desperately needs this funding. Video gambling machines are designed to be highly addictive with their glossy, colorful graphics and deceptive strategies, tricking people into playing longer and wagering higher, earning them nicknames like “electronic morphine” and the “crack cocaine of gambling.” The municipalities with the highest concentration of machines (low-income areas) don’t have the funding to help the growing number of addicts. They must pay the price as most of the profits go to five giant gambling companies.

In recent years, more states have been looking to gambling as an economic boost. Pennsylvania legislators, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, took an “even deeper plunge” into legal gambling in 2017, allowing gambling in truck stops and online. Michigan followed suit in 2018 and, according to Fox 17 News, legalized online gambling to fund a massive infrastructure plan. And West Virginia has already legalized video gambling machines like Illinois. A 2018 Supreme Court decision gave states the power to authorize sports betting as they see fit, which, as the Washington Post reported, “opened the door to an unprecedented expansion” of legal gambling (Barnes). Video gambling could be next, and these machines could soon be causing serious problems in more states than just Illinois.

ProPublica worked with WBEZ Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times on its report. Coverage of video gambling in Illinois has been limited to regional papers such as the Rockford Register Star, which republished ProPublica’s story. The Chicago Tribune—Illinois’s largest paper—has ignored the negatives of video gambling, and no other major national paper has covered the topic in any depth.

Sources:

Jason Grotto, Sandhya Kambhampati, and Dan Mihalopoulos, “How Illinois Bet on Video Gambling and Lost,” ProPublica (in partnership with WBEZ Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times), January 16, 2019, https://features.propublica.org/the-bad-bet/how-illinois-bet-on-video-gambling-and-lost/.

“The Problem with Video Gambling Machines.” Vox and ProPublica, January 17, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wb2Rddn3nk.

Student Researcher: Kevin Deiber (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)