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How a Video Gambling Company Helped Bankroll Local Politicians

And updates on the creation of new casinos around the state.

Video gambling machines inside the Thorntons truck stop in Waukegan, Illinois. The site has been allowed to act as a truck stop and offer video gambling — even though big rigs could struggle to get gas and it’s nearly five miles from the nearest interstate. (Nima Taradji for ProPublica Illinois)

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If you don’t know by now, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion bill in June that paves the way for six new casinos to be constructed across the state.

One of those casinos is to be built in Waukegan, where my colleague Jason Grotto reported a doozy of a story last week. Here’s some of what his investigation revealed:

For years, officials in this struggling city north of Chicago had tried to lobby the state to make a casino happen. And, for years, they failed. So, after the state legalized video gambling in 2009, Waukegan turned to video gambling. Today, Waukegan has more than 260 video poker and slot machines spread across 54 locations. The city is one of the top markets for video gambling in Illinois — and the city’s largest video gambling operator, Tap Room Gaming, made approximately $24 million in 2018.

What does one do with that kind of money?

—wait for it—

Try to make more money.

How?

In part, by using it to sway local politics.

While this story is about one city, it outlines a narrative that’s “playing out across the state, particularly in communities desperate for its promised riches,” Grotto writes.

You really ought to read it.

Here are some updates about the other locations from local news outlets around the state:

Chicago The big news here this week is that a Chicago casino was deemed “not feasible” because of an “onerous” tax structure that would make it difficult for an operator to make money, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. A study also raised questions about five proposed sites, saying they wouldn’t attract tourists.

The Chicago Tribune published the 51-page feasibility report here.

And here are five more takeaways from the report, including expectations that slot machines in Chicago’s airports could perform better than those in Las Vegas’ airport, via Crain’s Chicago Business.

Rockford The chairman of the Winnebago County Board’s Economic Development Committee “said he is still reviewing and collecting information pertaining to the best location for the casino,” reports the Rockford Register-Star. A vote by the full board is expected Aug. 22.

Danville Danville officials have their eyes on a specific site for a potential casino, the News-Gazette reported in early July. The deadline for proposals for a new casino is Aug. 21, reports local NBC affiliate WAND.

Williamson County A southern Illinois vineyard named Walker’s Bluff was selected to receive the license needed to build a casino, according to state Sen. Dale Fowler, a Harrisburg Republican. A photo in this Southern Illinoisan article shows a sign outside the winery depicting a rendering of what a future resort and casino could look like.

Do you live in or near any of these places? Have anything you think we should know about, gambling-related or otherwise? Send us an email.

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Portrait of Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe is the engagement reporter for ProPublica Illinois.

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