Illinois VGT Czar Says Don't Hold Your Breath On Internet Gaming

March 30, 2023
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The leader of the industry dominating the Illinois gaming market on Wednesday reiterated his firm opposition to bills in the state legislature seeking to legalize online casino games.

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The leader of the industry dominating the Illinois gaming market on Wednesday (March 29) reiterated his firm opposition to bills in the state legislature seeking to legalize online casino games.

“We believe [internet gaming] will be devastating to hundreds of communities and thousands of small businesses across the state who rely on video gaming revenues today to keep their doors open, employ residents and keep local revenues local,” Ivan Fernandez, executive director of the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.

Illinois has the most lucrative video gaming terminal (VGT) market in the nation, producing $2.71bn in gross revenue and more than $921m per year in tax revenue in 2022.

The 8,200 neighborhood bars and other small businesses where about 45,000 VGTs are located are not interested in losing market share to online gaming operations.

“I do not see that position changing anytime soon, as we made clear to legislators at our Lobby Day last week in Springfield (the state capital),” Fernandez said.

“Bars, restaurants and veterans and fraternal organizations all have too much at stake to allow the Wild West of internet gambling to take hold here.”

The influence of the VGT industry in Illinois is only expected to grow when Chicago elects a new mayor on April 4.

Paul Vallas, a conservative Democrat, and Brandon Johnson, a progressive Democrat, both support legalizing VGTs within Chicago’s city limits to supplement revenue from a destination-resort casino under development by Bally’s.

Once considered a virtual lock to legalize internet gaming at some point in time, Illinois seems to be growing more resistant to iGaming each year as the financial and political power of VGTs expands.

“I think it will take a solution where all gaming stakeholders can participate in iGaming to get something moving. And that may never happen,” said Cory Aronovitz, an attorney with the Casino Law Group in Chicago.

“I think it is important for [the state legislature in] Springfield to take a hard look at and find solutions to decrease the disparity in gaming and find meaningful equity and diversity,” Aronovitz said.

Coming into 2023, internet gambling advocates expressed cautious optimism about their chances in at least one of the three I-states of Illinois, Indiana or Iowa, as well as New York.

But by March 9, the optimism had turned to grim resignation when Howard Glaser, the global head of government affairs for Light & Wonder, spoke at the iGaming Next Conference in New York City.

There is “a greater chance of the Earth crashing into the sun … than iGaming being passed in any state this year,” Glaser said.

Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American regulatory affairs and responsible gaming at Entain, is not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

“It would appear that the best hope is New Hampshire at the moment,” Lycka told VIXIO in an email, referring to a bill that could be approved in the state's Senate as soon as today (March 30).

“The other states that have tried their hand with it have come across a number of issues that turned out to be difficult to accommodate — like, indeed, video gaming terminals. That said, I’m sure numerous iGaming bills will be back next year and the industry will have an opportunity to present even more compelling arguments in favor of regulation.”

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