Bouncing back

Gambling surges in state, city after downturn

With bars and restaurants and racetracks and casinos and video gambling terminals shut down last spring, state-regulated gambling decreased during the fiscal year that ended on July 1.

But the future looks bright for the state's gambling industry. Despite high unemployment and an uncertain economy, Illinoisans are wag

click to enlarge Despite high unemployment and an uncertain economy, Illinois residents today are wagering more than they did a year ago.
Despite high unemployment and an uncertain economy, Illinois residents today are wagering more than they did a year ago.

ering more than they did a year ago, before pandemic arrived.

Between the lottery, casinos, video gambling terminals, horse races and recently legalized sports gambling, bettors risked $1.06 billion in July; in 2019, slightly more than $900 million was wagered in July.

July is the most recent month for which statistics are available for all forms of state-regulated gambling, including sports betting, which became legal this year and drew nearly $30 million in wagers in July, mostly via the internet. Video gambling was up from a year ago, with $634.6 million bet in July, nearly $107.5 million more than during the same month a year earlier. Both video gambling and sports betting built on gains in August, with sports bettors wagering more than $70 million that month while video gamblers bet nearly $644 million, according to state gaming board statistics.

Receipts have been down for horse racing – tracks resumed racing without fans in June and July at the state's three tracks – and at the state's 10 casinos, which have operated with capacity limits.

In Springfield, the amount poured into video gambling terminals surged from $11.4 million in July 2019 to nearly $12.7 million in July of this year, and the trend is holding up. In August of last year, Springfield video gamblers bet $11.9 million, nearly $500 million less than was put into video machines in August of this year.

Ward 4 Ald. John Fulgenzi, who owns a restaurant on Sangamon Avenue with video gambling machines, hasn't enjoyed a windfall since the state, after a shutdown lasting more than three months, turned machines back on in July. State gaming board records show that nearly $11,000 less was wagered at machines in his restaurant in July and August than during the same two months the previous year, and Fulgenzi says that his numbers aren't improving. The typical bettor risks $20 or less, then leaves.

"If they win $500, they still go," Fulgenzi says. "We're not a bar – we just don't have the clientele that sticks around and drinks and has a good time."

But nearby bars have seen upticks in amounts wagered since a year ago.

Revenue from video gambling has increased in July and August over the same two months the prior year at American Legion Post 32 on Sangamon Avenue, a couple blocks from Fulgenzi's restaurant. Mike Walton, finance officer for the post, credits the addition of a sixth machine as well as a remodeling project that converted meeting space into a game room where there is plenty of elbow room. Masks are required, he says, but bettors who arrive without face coverings need not worry. "We've got hundreds of them," Walton said.

Liberalized gambling rules might also be in play. The state this year increased the maximum bet for video gambling machines from $2 to $4, allowing bettors to put more money into machines faster than before, while also allowing bars, restaurants and other establishments to have six machines, one more than had previously been allowed. Truck stops, once limited to five machines, may now have ten.In a report published last month, the state Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability wrote that, due to pandemic, state tax revenue from gambling dropped to slightly more than $1.2 billion, a decrease of more than 13%, during the fiscal year that ended in July. However, the commission predicted revenue increases in some sectors, including from video gambling.

"Once the pandemic subsides, video gaming revenues should see noticeable increases in future fiscal years, due to the enacted increases in terminal (numbers) and betting limits," the report's authors wrote.

Springfield, with 701 video gambling terminals, had more machines than any other city in the state, according to the report, which generated more net income, $24.6 million, than machines in any other city.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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