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Let’s Break Down Some Numbers in Illinois’ New Gambling Expansion Bill

Big numbers reflect big legislation — one that got pushed through at the last minute, with little debate or analysis.

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Well, it happened again. As they did in 2009, Illinois lawmakers decided last weekend that one way out of our state’s long-standing financial crisis is to massively increase the number of ways private citizens can legally gamble their own money. Like we’ve been saying, that didn’t work out so well the first time. But … here we are.

A live shot of the Illinois legislature expanding legal gambling. (xkcd.com)

“An 816-page bill introduced and passed by the General Assembly over the weekend will, if fully realized, transform Illinois into the gambling capital of the Midwest,” writes my colleague, ProPublica Illinois reporter Jason Grotto, in a story we published this week that dissects the massive gambling expansion bill.

But in this newsletter, let’s just dissect the word “massive” for a minute. Ready for some numbers?

  • 6: Number of new casinos, bringing the state total to 16.

    The bill permits casinos to operate in Chicago, Waukegan and Rockford, among other places. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is banking on a 4,000-seat mega casino downtown to help bail the city out of its crushing pension debts. In Waukegan, adding a 2,000-position casino to the town will increase the number of gambling positions nearly eightfold. In Rockford, which has the second-highest number of video slot and poker machines in the state, a new casino could drain gambling dollars from those locations.

  • <p><strong>5: Number of “racinos”</strong></p>
    

    What is a racino? Well, yeah, a combination racetrack and casino. The gambling expansion bill transforms the state’s three existing racetracks into racinos by permitting casino operations, while allowing two new racinos to open.

  • 6: The maximum number of video gambling machines per location, up from 5. This could bring the state total to more than 7,000 video gambling machines.

    The bill also increases maximum bets on each machine from $2 to $4, and allows individual locations to create jackpots up to $10,000.

  • <p><strong>5,000: Sports betting kiosk locations</strong></p>
    

    These are similar to the kiosks where you can buy scratch-off lottery tickets, only you can place bets on sporting events instead. It’s a pilot program that will place 2,500 kiosks in locations that sell lottery tickets in the first year and another 2,500 a year or so later.

  • <p><strong>36,000: Approximate number of <em>new</em> seats to place a bet inside a casino, bar or racino,</strong> bringing the total from almost 44,000 to <strong>nearly 80,000</strong>.</p>
    

    What this number does NOT account for, though, is also the millions of people with mobile phones who will have access to legal sports betting, which is also part of the expansion bill.

Why care about all these big numbers? Well, because they reflect big legislation — legislation that got pushed through at the last minute, with little debate or analysis, that will profoundly impact our state.

If you want to dig into the many, many elements of this 816-page bill, we’re annotating it. You can check that out here.

On that rosy outlook, enjoy your weekend!

Until next week …

— Logan Jaffe

Engagement reporter, ProPublica Illinois

P.S. Remember how last week we told you about several lawmakers with ties to the video gambling industry, who were expected to vote on the gambling expansion bill? Well, a few of them abstained from the vote. At least one did not. Read about that in our story this week.

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Portrait of Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe is a reporter for newsletters at ProPublica.

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