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Of Course This Happened in Illinois. Why Wouldn’t It?

Lawmakers are making money from video gambling operators. A vote on gambling expansion may happen Friday.

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Hmmm. Maybe the reason Illinois has such a strong reputation for political corruption has something to do with inappropriate financial relationships like the ones we uncovered this week? Some of Illinois’ most powerful lawmakers — or their family members — are making money directly from doing private business with video gambling operators.

Among our elected officials with ties to the video gambling industry are Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Republican from Bloomington, and Chicago Democrat Antonio Muñoz, the Senate assistant majority leader, according to records obtained by ProPublica Illinois reporter Jason Grotto and our collaborator Dan Mihalopoulos, a reporter at WBEZ Chicago.

Why does this matter? I’ll tell you.

By the time you read this, it will be either the last day for state lawmakers to make a decision on whether to expand gambling in Illinois and increase taxes on video gambling, as proposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is seeking much-needed revenue for the perennially cash-strapped state, or lawmakers will have decided to put off the vote until the next legislative session in the fall.

Either way, the issue is not going away. And, clearly, the fate of gambling legislation may rest in part on the votes of lawmakers — such as the ones I just mentioned — with a stake in the outcome. Brady declined to answer questions about his involvement in video gambling but said he acts in the public interest. Muñoz did not respond to requests for an interview.

And, yes, the video gambling industry in Illinois is a billion-dollar industry. The top five video gambling operators control nearly 50% of the market, reaping nearly $1 billion in revenue between 2012 and 2018, according to our analysis of gaming board data.

Yet some of those same moneymaking video gambling operators, with the help of a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm, launched a statewide campaign with slogans like “Save Main Street” and “Bet on Main Street” to try to cast any tax increase as an assault on small businesses.

The photo below is from one of those campaign rallies, in which executives from one of the state’s largest video gambling companies bused their own employees to the event, telling them not to wear any attire tied to the company’s name. Clearly, small-business owners weren’t the only folks in the crowd.

Members of the Bet on Main Street Coalition walked to the Illinois State Capitol on May 8 to speak to lawmakers. The group, funded by the video gambling industry, opposes a tax increase on video gambling. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

Anyway, this is all to say, please read our story from this week. We’ll keep you posted on the issue as it moves through the legislature. In the meantime, tell me what you think about all this video gambling business. How does video gambling affect your community? Do you know anyone who may be playing video poker or slot machines a bit more than they should? We’d like to better understand video gambling addiction in Illinois. You can always email us at [email protected].

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