SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois gaming officials are trying to determine if potentially large parts of the state might be off-limits to legalized gambling on video poker machines even if they haven’t formally opted out of the law.

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois gaming officials are trying to determine if potentially large parts of the state might be off-limits to legalized gambling on video poker machines even if they haven’t formally opted out of the law.

The determination could call into question how much revenue the state can expect to collect from the machines once legalized gambling on them becomes operational, now expected by the end of the year.

Money from video gaming is earmarked to pay off state public works construction bonds.

The issue has to do with how attorneys for the Illinois Gaming Board are interpreting a section of the law passed to authorize gambling on video poker.  Among other things, the law allows communities to opt out of video poker.  But the Gaming Board believes that if a community passed other gambling prohibitions, even if they do not deal directly with video poker, it could disqualify the community from having video poker.

“We have heard from gaming attorneys that they think there are such gambling prohibition statutes on like 50 percent of the communities in the state,” said Gaming Board spokesman Gene O’Shea.

No full picture

The Gaming Board staff is compiling a list of communities that have gambling prohibitions that may prevent them from allowing video poker. 

“We don’t have a full picture of this yet,” O’Shea said.

Local gambling prohibitions do not prevent the sale of lottery tickets because the state’s lottery law specifically provides for sales in all parts of the state.

O’Shea said it is possible that if one of those communities wanted to be part of video poker, it could change its gambling prohibitions to allow it.

“They would have to proactively do something,” he said.

Not everyone agrees. 

“It’s an interpretation by the Gaming Board of the law which I think is erroneous,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a proponent of gaming expansion.  “When we passed the video gaming law, we very specifically said everyone is in unless they opt out.”

Unofficial list

If the Gaming Board persists in its interpretation, Lang said, state lawmakers might have to amend the video poker law to make it clearer that communities must opt out.  Another possibility could be a lawsuit filed by a business that wants video gaming, but is prohibited by the Gaming Board’s reading of the law.

When the video gaming law was passed in 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn insisted that it include a provision allowing communities to opt out of the law.  Just how many communities have opted out of video poker is subject to debate.  The Gaming Board web site has a list that until recently had about 80 names on it, both cities and counties.  The board said it was an unofficial list because there is no requirement that communities notify the board of their opt-out decisions.

Now, though, the list is up to 150 communities and six counties.  O’Shea said the new list is based on a questionnaire sent out by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission that asked if communities had opted out of video gaming among other things.  The list is still unofficial, however. 

 

Could cut revenues

If a significant number of communities and counties keep out video gaming, it will cut into the revenues the state hopes to collect.

“A ruling by the Gaming Board that shuts down video gambling in many municipalities that haven’t uttered a word about it is a ruling that will cost us jobs, will cost us economic development, will cost us revenue,” Lang said.

At this point, though, the fact video gaming isn’t up and running is not affecting capital projects, said Gov. Quinn’s budget office.

“We have not sold any bonds that need revenue from video gaming,” said Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s deputy budget director.

The Gaming Board believes video gaming will be operating by the end of the year.  The board has been licensing equipment vendors and is installing a central communications system needed to link video terminals.

O’Shea also said the board is getting “very close” to accepting online applications from business owners that want to host video poker machines.  Those owners will be subject to background checks.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.