CHICAGO -- Key members of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association have told VT that Chicago's leading newspapers display consistent bias against the state's planned video lottery industry. When local communities decide to opt out of the VLT market, the impact is exaggerated in big headlines. But when jurisdictions vote to participate in the gaming program, their decisions receive scant coverage, claims one Illinois operator. Recently, Aurora and Rockford -- the second and third largest cities in the state -- voted down proposed ordinances that would have banned VLTs, but few stories were published in the state's leading press outlets.
Negative news stories about video gambling are not difficult to find. This week, with the City of Chicago still undecided on VLTs, local papers are playing up organized crime connections to illegal video poker. A Chicago Sun-Times story on Feb. 6 reported that "Top mobsters ... have been caught on secret FBI recordings welcoming the legalization of video poker machines, a business they have dominated over the years."
The paper also highlighted an ongoing federal probe into one suspect, dubbing Casey Szaflarski of Amusements Inc. (Berwyn) "the new king of mob-controlled video poker in the Chicago area."
The story linked Szaflarski to various mob figures including two convicted felons. No charges have been filed against Szaflarski; attorneys linked to the operator have insisted on his innocence. But the Sun-Times suggested that yet-unspecified charges could be forthcoming. The paper also reminded readers that the same federal probe has already resulted in indictments against alleged Circero mob boss Michael Sarno and other suspects in connection with the bombing of a competing Berwyn-based poker operator several years ago.
This latest round of negative publicity is the last thing that video lottery needs. To date, more than 60 jurisdictions around the state have opted out of the planned VLT market, also known as VGT (video gaming terminal). Industry insiders are saying that Chicago's eventual decision on VLTs could be decisive. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley Jr. was an early supporter of VLTs, but now is alleged to be wavering.
Clarification: the Feb. 4 edition of Ahead of the Times cited The Daily Herald as saying that the current number of opt-outs means that if the VLT market goes forward at the end of this year, 30% of Illinois citizens will live in jurisdictions where video gaming remains illegal.
The Herald's report was based on the assumption that Chicago's current ban on video gambling remains in place. This is consistent with an estimate by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which found that if Chicago did not repeal its current ban, the total percentage of Illinois's population that is opting out would be 31.5%. However, VLT supporters remain hopeful that Chicago will vote to participate in the video lottery industry, significantly boosting the percentage of Illinois' citizenry that lives in jurisdictions where video lottery is available.