The amount of money wagered on video gambling in Kendall County bars, restaurants, gas stations and small gaming parlors has increased by tens of millions of dollars in recent years, according to data from the Illinois Gaming Board.
But very little of that money rebounds to local governments. Due to state tax rules on video gambling, municipalities in Kendall County see but a small fraction of the cash residents are wagering, even as officials continue to approve more gaming sites.
So far this year approximately $97,943,000 has been wagered on video gambling across Montgomery, Oswego, Plano and Yorkville. During that same period in the first half of 2016, gamers had wagered about $38,299,000, an increase of about $59,644,000.
All told, video gambling income, or the amount players have lost on machines, has totaled $50,939,300 since mid-2016.
While players win a lot of that money back, the growth is in line with expanded video gambling across Illinois. The state had nearly 7,200 video gambling locations at the end of 2019, the most in the entire country, according to American Gaming Association. The second highest state, Oregon, had about 2,200.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker expanded the amount of gambling machines licensed locations can have from five to six in 2019, along with increases in the maximum amount players can wager and win.
Even before Pritzker expanded video gambling, it was already proliferating in Kendall County. Oswego, for example, had 37 machines across eight establishments in mid-2016. Today, the village has 68 machines across 12 locations.
Oswego’s administrator, Dan Di Santo, said village board members have monitored video gambling sites over the years to see “when will the market be saturated.”
“If the revenue had fallen out, we don’t want to add more to the market,” Di Santo remarked. “We keep adding and the numbers keep going up. The board hasn’t given any indication to stop allowing new ones as long as we see the market continuing to rise.”
Though officials “didn’t prioritize it,” Montgomery has the largest growth in video gambling of any area municipality. And officials continue to approve new locations, OK’ing a liquor license for a new Debbie’s Video Gaming location on Ogden Avenue (Route 34) earlier this month.
“It’s not something we went out looking for,” said Justin VanVooren, Montgomery’s finance director, who added that the village’s gambling revenue grew from $50 in early 2013 to over $20,000 this May.
Though video gambling can be a steady revenue stream for municipalities, it still accounts for a very small portion of local government income. Under state law, municipalities receive only 5% of the net profit from video gambling machines. For example, gamers in Yorkville lost $398,273 on machines in June 2021 alone. From that, the city pocketed about $20,000.
But the businesses who offer video gambling do benefit greatly from it. PD’s Place, a gambling parlor in Oswego, has more money wagered on gambling than any location in the village. Co-owner Diali Shah said their employees and customer service have propelled the business to one of the area’s top gambling venues.
“People love the place. They like the homey feeling,” Shah said. “We have pretty regular customers. We get new customers in too because it’s talk of the town.”
Though video gambling can be a harmless past time for some, its prevalence in Illinois poses unique challenges to people with a gambling addiction or disorder.
Justin Wolfe, an outpatient manager of addiction services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health in Naperville said patients will track on a phone app gas stations that have video gambling. That way, temptation won’t arise during a simple trip to fill up the tank.
“You can’t get away from it,” Wolfe said. “At this point it’s one of those things that’s becoming impossible. You can’t avoid it. You cant ignore it. It’s right in your face.”
You talk about the uncertainty, stress, job loss, loss of identity and role during this time. A lot of people are looking for something to hook on to,” Wolfe said. “Gambling comes in and fills those cracks in the foundation that are there.”