SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Wagers made on video lottery terminals in Illinois are already paying off in a big way for operators and locations, as well as for the state's revenue department and city governments.
The Illinois Gaming Board reports that 714 video lottery terminals statewide generated nearly $18 million in October. Of that, more than $346,000 went to the state while cities in jurisdictions where the machines are permitted received about $70,000.
Illinois turned on its video poker network on Oct. 9 with only 278 machines in 65 locations. But more locations are coming online day by day as licenses are approved and machines are installed.
According to a report by WIFR-TV, the state's top-earning location in October was an American Legion post in Urbana, where gamblers bet more than $900,000, or an average of $30,000 a day. The location is serviced by Bill Opsahl, who also owns the state's second-highest-earning location, Opsahl's Pizza in Rockford, where customers wagered more than $800,000 in October.
When Illinois passed the Video Gaming Act in 2009, the most optimistic supporters hoped the program might support 75,000 VLTs. That's 100 times the number of VLTs currently installed; by law, up to five terminals could be installed in the state's 21,000 premises that are licensed to serve alcohol for onsite consumption. However, the initial optimistic base projection was soon reduced to 40,000 games -- still enough to potentially generate $375 million in taxes for the financially struggling state.
The size of the state's VLT market is expected to grow significantly in the coming year. IGB officials say they are facing a backlog of operator and location license applications. More than 3,000 applications are on file.
Applications for licenses from unknown locations have yet to be filed. The reason: in jurisdictions where VLTs are permitted, some location owners have a "wait-and-see" attitude.
Some cities around the state are still considering allowing VLTs under the 2009 law's local-option provision. But city fathers in Chicago, the state's largest and most populous city, remain largely opposed to VLTs.
One possible interpretation of October's numbers: So far VLTs are achieving higher revenues per-machine than originally estimated, even if the early machine deployment phase is slower than expected.