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Bring Chicago Home Vote Failure Could Lend New Opposition To IL Online Casinos

Written By Derek Helling on April 2, 2024
person voting in laundromat

No political measure exists in a vacuum. Every decision has ramifications, sometimes broad. The recent failure of the Bring Chicago Home referendum in Chicago, while not connected to gambling in Illinois on its surface, may end up having an impact on future gambling expansion.

A new bill in the Illinois House of Representatives aims to provide Chicago with some of the funding that the city’s voters short-circuited. It would expand the scope of legal gambling in the city to do so. That could lead to more robust opposition to expansion of another kind.

Bring Chicago Home vote precedes introduction of VLT bill in Springfield

Illinois held its primaries for the 2024 general election on March 19. People in Chicago had a unique question on their ballots. That was Mayor Brandon Johnson‘s proposed Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would have generated new revenues to address the city’s housing needs.

The measure failed by about 21,000 votes1 in the lowest turnout for a primary in Chicago during a United States presidential election year since World War II. At the same time, Chicago might get some new resources that it could put toward that end from another source.

On March 22, Illinois Rep. Kam Buckner filed HB57912. Buckner endorsed Johnson3 in his mayoral election and Dan Petrella of the Chicago Tribune described Buckner as an ally of Johnson’s4. HB5791 would change the laws in Chicago as they pertain to the operation of video gaming terminals (VLTs).

Illinois created a regulated system for such gaming in 2012 but allows local governments to restrict it. Currently, Chicago ordinances do not allow for the issuance of licenses to operate such gaming. Many other cities and counties in Illinois permit certain businesses like bars, convenience stores and fraternal organizations to offer VLT gaming to customers.

The fate of HB5791 is uncertain right now. The bill is in the Illinois House Rules Committee, which has no hearings scheduled at this time. Questions abound about how to implement the proposed changes should the bill become law. Then there are the unintended consequences of the potential enactment.

Opening Chicago up to VLT gaming would strengthen already robust gaming industry

As Chicago is the third-largest city in the US in terms of population, the impact of opening it up to VLT gaming would be a game-changer for companies in the VLT industry in the state. Those companies already compose a strong lobbying arm in Springfield.

Those lobbying resources might get behind HB5791 for that reason. However, there are some issues that proponents of the bill will have to address to get the necessary votes. Those include what to do about entities in Chicago currently offering VLT gaming without a license.

While Petrella reports that the bill includes a provision for such businesses in Chicago to swap out their devices for licensed terminals, critics of the proposal pause at the premise of allowing people who may have been violating existing laws to escape the penalty for doing so.

Such opposition comes from members of the Illinois Gaming Board among other places according to Petrella.

Aside from the issue at hand, the reinforcement of the VLT industry’s political clout in Illinois might lead to more fervent resistance to other types of gaming proliferating throughout the state.

The potential impact on Illinois online casino legalization

While the legalization of online casinos in Illinois is not currently a hot topic in Springfield, it’s a conversation that does exist on a low level. A VLT industry in the state with the added partnerships and revenue that operating in Chicago could bring might make that lobbying arm stronger on the issue.

Businesses that operate in the VLT space might resist expanding legal online gambling in Illinois to include online casino play. They might fear that players would stay home and not patronize their establishments. While that voice is going to be strong on the issue regardless of whether Chicago ever gets in the game, resources from Chicago might tip the scales.

To account for that, proponents of online casino legalization might need more buy-in from other players in the Illinois gambling space like the state’s casinos, off-track betting sites, and racetracks. They might have a stake in online casino play as they do with online sports betting in Illinois.

Most of this conversation currently exists only in the realm of the hypothetical but is somewhat likely. The discussion of what could be was triggered by the failure of the Bring Chicago Home vote.

  1. Why the Bring Home Chicago ballot measure failed ↩︎
  2. Illinois General Assembly – Bill Status for HB5791 ↩︎
  3. Mayoral Endorssements: Black Alderpeople Back Paul Vallas, State Rep. Kam Buckner Backs Brandon Johnson ↩︎
  4. Illinois House proposal could pave way for video gambling in Chicago ↩︎
Photo by AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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