Illinois plans to flood state with video poker machines

Aug 13, 2012 7:40 PM

Illinois lawmakers’ efforts to expand gambling may be bottled up by a reluctant governor but it hasn’t stopped them from moving in other directions.

The state of Illinois took advantage of the U.S. Justice Department’s easing of Internet gaming restrictions by becoming the first to offer online lottery ticket sales.

Now, the move is to place video slot machines in hundreds of locations such as bars, pizza parlors, veterans’ clubs and truck stops throughout the state. In fact, the goal is to have some 75,000 gambling machines operating within the next 12 months.

A bonanza for the gaming machine manufacturers.

Also a bonanza for the state’s tax collections.

The movement started in 2009 when a law was passed approving video gambling to help fund a $31 billion construction program to fix schools, roads, bridges and other transportation projects. But, putting the plan into action has been slow.

Opposition from liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, slowed the process until the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional. Then problems developed with bidding contracts and the slow development of staff for gaming regulators.

Despite criticism, the gaming expansion has moved forward.

The law permits up to five machines per site. Revenue will be split with the state getting 25 percent and the community 5 percent. The remainder will be shared by the location operators.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers await action on legislation that would permit the licensing of five casinos, including one in the City of Chicago, and permitting slot machines to be installed at the state’s seven racetracks. The holdup is lack of approval from Gov. Pat Quinn, who consistently has opposed such a giant leap into gaming.