In what became another domino in a startling rush of sports league and gaming industry closings, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) announced what felt like the inevitable.
“The Illinois Gaming Board has extended the suspension of all video gaming operations at all licensed establishments of any kind and all casino gambling operations in Illinois until at least April 8, 2020,” the IBG said in a press release. “The health and safety of patrons, gaming industry employees, Gaming Board staff, and all others in Illinois is the Gaming Board’s top priority.”
The IGB said their choice to close its gaming properties until April 8 is in line with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s March 20 executive order, in which he ordered, among other things:
- Residents to stay at home
- Closure of nonessential businesses
- Prohibition of meetings of more than 10 people
- Nonessential travel
The IGB announced suspensions of casinos and video gaming on March 13 and March 16, respectively. At the time, the two suspensions were supposed to last until March 30.
According to the release, regulators will re-evaluate the situation in the future and may extend the suspension.
“The Gaming Board is continuously monitoring developments in connection with the COVID-19 public health crisis and will update licensees and the public as warranted if any further extension is necessary,” the release noted.
Closure is unprecedented; revenue will suffer
Illinois legalized riverboat gambling in 1990, and its first water-based casinos opened in 1991. The state’s gaming industry has grown to a combination of 10 land-based and riverboat casinos. In 2009, the state legalized video gaming.
Never before has the state closed all its casinos and video gambling operations for this long. It’s certainly a reality that many states are facing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
At stake is a tremendous amount of revenue for casinos, as well as tax revenue for the state. According to the IGB’s February data, casinos and video gaming earned the following numbers:
- Casino income: $102.3 million
- Casino tax revenue: $21.7 million
- Video gaming income: $151.5 million
- Video gaming tax revenue: $100 million
There’s a good chance the state will see about half of the tax revenue it would normally see this month. If February’s numbers are any indication, then Illinois stands to lose about $60 million from the suspension.
Illinois decisions a reflection of nationwide concern
In the past three weeks, the nation has seen an incredible transformation. On March 10, the NCAA Tournament was still a go, the NBA season was in full swing and the coronavirus pandemic was more of a nuisance than anything else.
All that changed the next day when the NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The NCAA soon-after canceled March Madness.
Casinos across the country then announced closures concurrent to that surreal string of announcements.
Perhaps the most stunning closure was the one that took place on the Las Vegas Strip. Mick Akers, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, posted perhaps the most stunning video clip of the Strip after the closures. The video shows the streets virtually empty and the sidewalks that normally groan under the weight of hundreds of thousands of people every day are devoid of nearly all foot traffic.
The Las Vegas Strip at 4:30 pm on St. Patrick’s Day. #vegas #coronavirus #tourism pic.twitter.com/fExlDDRdvW
— Mick Akers (@mickakers) March 17, 2020
At the time of publishing, the casino closures are still in effect, and the future of the coronavirus pandemic in America is still unknown. New cases continue to climb.
Projections seem to suggest that the peak of the spread has yet to come.