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Legislative report finds gambling at a slowdown in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — Gambling is going through slow times in Illinois, with state taxes for all forms of gambling falling by nearly 6 percent this year despite growth in the video sector, according to a new report from the Illinois Legislature.

The bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability’s report shows state revenue from riverboat casinos and the lottery fell and horse racing revenues were flat.

And while video gambling continued to expand, it wasn’t enough to offset the 5.8 percent fall in taxes for all forms of gambling in the fiscal years ended June 30.

The slowdown comes as some state lawmakers consider expanding gambling as a way to ease the state’s financial problems.

“I’m a believer in using the expansion to bring more dollars, to create more jobs for the state,” state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, told The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. “But we do need to do this in a smart way. I do believe it would generate additional revenue.”

But Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said the report underlines his belief that gambling is saturated in Illinois.

“What you’re seeing going on is cannibalization from the other forms of gaming into video gaming,” Swoik said. It’s just moving around the dollars. We’re not creating any more gamblers.”

The report reflected this, saying new casinos must bring new gambling revenue to the state and if the casinos don’t, “the state would have a large amount of gaming expansion with little new tax revenues to show for it.”

Legislators in Springfield have been considering gambling expansion in Illinois for months, with plans to open casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the southern Chicago suburbs, along with allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn’t ruled out more gambling to shore up state finances.

“The governor wants to ensure that if a gaming bill passes, it is a good deal for all Illinois taxpayers and believes decisions on gambling should be done in close consultation with local communities,” spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.