On July 13, 2009 Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the Video Gaming Act  making Licensed Video Gaming Terminals legal in Illinois. Part of the law established the ability of mom and pop operators to put up to five slot machines on the premises as long as they get a license and sell a little booze. The exact definition of a “Licensed establishment” is any licensed retail establishment where alcoholic liquor is drawn, poured, mixed, or otherwise served for consumption on the premises, whether the establishment operates on a nonprofit or for-profit basis.

The former National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, now called “Stop Predatory Gambling” did some data mining on the Illinois Gaming Board web site and came up with some fairly surprising numbers. What we find from their report published on Scribd.com is that the desired economic impact of the legislation has come to pass. There are currently almost 1,000 slot machines available at 198 casino cafes which generated over $138 million in revenue and nearly $40 million in profit over the last two years.

Some of the mini-casinos or “casino cafes” are franchised restaurants or part of a chain and some are your local corner store with a wine tasting license. Some of the most recognizable names are Dotty’s, Betty’s Bistro, and Emma’s Eatery. The list also includes names like Anna’s, Tracy’s, and Lucky 7 Slots. The venues are spread around the state in over 40 counties with the populous Cook County having more than 50 establishments.

It should be noted that the act includes a provision for local municipalities to simply pass an ordinance, or for the more democracy inclined, hold a referendum to “opt-out” with a simple majority vote, banning video gaming terminals within their incorporated borders. Some communities have opted out, and others have passed ordinances limiting video gaming – usually banning machines at truck stops, or authorizing a single establishment to corner the market. We found less than 200 of the 1475 municipalities in the state have issued an outright ban. It should be noted that there are many on the Commission’s list in the “Unknown” category which may inflate that number. So after five years we can only confirm about 1 out of 10 communities that have decided it’s somehow not a good idea to let people have a spin on the slots. According to a story published in the Chicago Tribune on October 11, more than 100 municipalities have overturned bans or passed ordinances allowing video gambling.

While we have not been able to find hard data on the positive economic impact of these slots cafes, we can draw some sort of conclusion based on roughly 90% of the communities at least giving them a “wait and see” attitude after more than five years of the law being in effect. We might note that there are currently about 70 new or pending applications on file as well. The way the state database is configured we aren’t able to post a link to the Pending Applicants list but it can be found at http://www.igb.illinois.gov/VideoLists.aspx.

Some may confuse these wholly legal slot cafes with the “sweepstakes cafes” sprouting up that are less than clearly legal and are not taxed or regulated. Although the machines may look similar, they are entirely different animals and another issue altogether that shouldn’t be allowed to confuse the issue of duly legal, regulated, and taxed devices. Many municipalities require the video gaming license to be “clearly displayed at all times”. When in doubt, simply ask.

In the bigger picture we see that Illinois gamblers will find over 18,000 video poker and slot machines in about 4,500 locations across the state. This number does not include the actual casinos such as Hollywood Casino Joliet, or Par-A-Dice Hotel Casino in Peoria, etc.

The gambling boom is on in Illinois and the mom & pop operators are a big part of it.

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