Illinois House Bill Would Legalize Video Gaming Terminals In Chicago

Written By Phil West on April 3, 2024
Blurred out video game terminals signify a VGT bill proposed by the IL General Assembly

Rep. Kam Buckner, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, has introduced legislation in the Illinois General Assembly that would legalize video gaming terminals in Chicago.

House Bill 5791, the skills game bill, introduced on March 22 and referred to the House Rules Committee, would amend the current Video Gaming Act in an effort to bring needed revenue to the Windy City.

According to coverage from the Chicago Tribune, Buckner is an ally of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. The measure is seen as “a way for Chicago businesses to swap the legally murky sweepstakes machines that can be found at bars, gas stations and even laundromats around Chicago for state-licensed – and taxed – betting devices.”

Chicago officials must be ‘completely bought in,’ Buckner says

Even though video gambling, not including Illinois online casinos, has been legal in Illinois since 2012, Chicago has enacted local laws prohibiting video gaming terminals (VGTs). Other cities across Illinois have seen the number of machines increase significantly in bars, restaurants and in other small businesses.

Alderman William Hall, who heads a Chicago City Council subcommittee looking into the issue, told the Tribune that council must do its due diligence.

“No one would disagree that we need to look at every revenue option. But we must first … make room for voices, make room for opinions, look at best practices.”

Interestingly, Johnson “has not taken a position on the legalization of video gambling in Chicago,” according to a spokesperson. But Buckner said he has met with city officials on the matter “to ensure that the city’s regulations are in no way impeding efforts to diversify the state’s video gambling industry.”

Buckner, a “former manager of neighborhood and government relations for the Chicago Cubs,” believes the bill benefits his hometown. But, he said, the measure is meant to be a “conversation starter” that might allow Chicago to collect tax revenue that other cities around the state are getting.

Buckner said it’s critical to get buy-in from Chicago city officials.

“It’s still early, but we can’t do anything … without having them completely bought in.”

The Tribune pointed out that Chicago may be missing out on an opportunity.

“The city of Springfield, which has more video gambling machines than any other municipality in Illinois, collected $2.5 million in local tax revenue from the devices last year, according to a report from the Legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.”

Voters rejected a Johnson-backed referendum last month

The bill comes in the wake of a Johnson-backed referendum, Bring Chicago Home, which was rejected by Windy City voters in last month’s election. That initiative aimed to change the real estate transfer tax rate to make – as proponents put it – “big corporate landlords pay their fair share.”

According to its website, the plan was “estimated to generate at least $100 million every single year, and be legally dedicated to programs that alleviate homelessness, including assistance for children, veterans and those fleeing gender-based violence.”

Voters rejected it by roughly a 52%-48% margin.

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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