Illinois Lawmaker Wants to Legalize Video Gaming Machines in Chicago

Legislation introduced to the Illinois House of Representatives by state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) would allow small businesses in Chicago to seek a video gaming terminal (VGT) license regardless of whether they currently offer illegal sweepstakes machines.

Video gaming terminals are seen inside an Illinois bar. A state lawmaker wants to lift Chicago’s ban on VGT devices to generate new tax revenue for the distressed city. (Image: Universal Gaming Group)

House Bill 5791 would amend Illinois’ Video Gaming Act to allow business applicants who previously housed unregulated sweepstakes machines to pursue VGT licenses.

Sweepstakes machines, controversial grey gaming apparatuses that law enforcement has long deemed to be illegal gambling devices, continue to proliferate in Chicago due to the city’s VGT ban.

Should Chicago lift its VGT prohibition, HB 5791 would create a framework for businesses currently offering sweepstakes machines to seek slot-like VGT permits from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Funding Problems

Chicago continues to try to find ways to pay for its broken pension system for first responders. The $1.7 billion Bally’s Chicago downtown casino is supposed to play a significant role, but the development of the Freedom Center project hasn’t gone as planned.

Chicago’s City Council has maintained its ban on VGTs since the state legalized the gaming machines for businesses holding liquor licenses in 2012. In addition to HB 5791, Buckner wants the Windy City to lift the VGT ordinance.

Buckner has already met with city officials who seem open to lifting the more than decade-old VGT ban.

No one would disagree that we need to look at every revenue option,” Alderman William Hall told the Chicago Tribune.

Buckner said step one of his effort to bring VGTs to Chicago is winning over the City Council.

It’s still early, but we can’t do anything without them completely bought in,” said Buckner.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson hasn’t taken a position publicly about lifting the city’s VGT ban.

Illinoisans wagered $2.8 billion on VGT machines last year, according to state gaming regulators.

Springfield, the state capital that’s home to about 113K people — a far cry from Chicago’s 2.7 million populace — has the most VGT machines of any city in the state. Springfield received about $2.5 million in local tax revenue from the VGT devices last year.

Springfield has 137 businesses offering VGT machines. The establishments collectively offered 748 gaming devices as of February.

Sweepstakes Machines Explained

While Chicago maintains a ban on state-regulated VGTs, many small businesses throughout the city have brought sweepstakes devices in. The grey gaming devices allow players to bet real cash to win store credit.

The Illinois Gaming Board has long levied that sweepstakes machines constitute illegal gambling. Along with the pension funding problem, Johnson is seeking new revenue sources to curb the city’s homelessness problem.

In a special referendum last month, city voters turned down Johnson’s $100 million “Bring Chicago Home” plan to set aside more affordable housing in the city and for the local government to develop a comprehensive homelessness prevention plan. The funding would have been created by increasing property taxes on homeowners and property owners whose real estate assets are assessed at more than $1 million.

A slight majority of Chicagoans — 52.2% — voted against the initiative.  

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