Missouri, Illinois Propose Slot Expansion

Missouri and Illinois lawmakers proposed measures concerning video gambling machines. Missouri state Rep. Bart Korman's bill would let bars and restaurants install up to five machines, and fraternal organizations up to 10. The Illinois Senate voted 31-26 to allow slots at racetracks. Illinois state Senator James Clayborne introduced a measure allowing up to 200 video gambling machines at Gateway Motorsports Park (l.).

Legislation to allow or increase video gambling machines has been introduced in Missouri and Illinois. One of the Missouri proposals would legalize video gambling machines in bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations. Another would direct video gambling proceeds to higher education. The Illinois measure would allow slots at a car racetrack near St. Louis.

Under Missouri state Rep. Bart Korman’s measure, local bars and restaurants could offer up to five video gambling machines, and fraternal organizations could install 10. The bill also would limit the price of a single game to $2. Korman said the legislation would generate $90 million a year for schools plus $20 million for local governments when as many as 15,000 machines are fully functional by 2020. “When you look at the budget situation we have, I think it’s something we need to have a conversation about. The cost of busing is an important issue in rural areas. Student transportation has been cut year after year,” he said.

Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, said revenue at Illinois casinos has dropped 13 percent since video gambling terminals first appeared in Illinois taverns in 2012. “We see this as significant. Obviously people are taking advantage of playing at local facilities,” Winter said.

However, Tom Cobb, of Acme Music & Vending Company in of St. Joseph, said, “All this does is give small business a leg up. It gives them a chance to get in the game.” Charles “Andy” Arnold, a lobbyist for J & J Ventures of Missouri, which also has operations in Illinois, said casinos “very well may lose a small amount of adjusted gross revenues,” but the plan would create thousands of new jobs.

A similar measure, sponsored by state Senator Denny Hoskins, is pending in the Senate. President Pro Tem Ron Richard stated he would not block the measure from being debated in the Senate, although he opposes gambling as a way to fix the state’s budget deficit. “I’m not a fan of legalizing gambling to plug any hole for anything. The Senate is supposed to be for open and fair discussion, so that’s what I try to do, regardless of my support or not,” Richard said.

In Illinois, state Senator James Clayborne introduced a measure to allow up to 200 video gambling machines at the car racetrack Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, located a few minutes from downtown St. Louis. Gateway spokeswoman Susan Ryan, “The long-term success of this business requires a diverse revenue base including non-racing entertainment options such as festivals, charity events, private parties, concerts and gaming.”

Clayborne’s legislation is similar to a measure approved in Illinois in 2009, although it was not enacted until 2012. Since then more than 5,700 businesses have installed at least one video gambling terminal. The total number of machines in operation is close to 25,000, according to the Illinois Gaming Commission. In 2016 video gambling generated $277 million for Illinois, of which local governments received $55.4 million.

Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik said VGTs at the racetrack would draw players from the Casino Queen, located less than five miles away in East St. Louis. “It’s just such a big proposal and the Casino Queen is so close by,” Swoik said. In the past decade, visitors to Illinois riverboats casino fell from 1.3 million in December 207 to 950,000.

Clayborne’s bill is separate from a larger gambling measure that would help end Illinois’ budget stalemate. In Illinois, the Senate recently voted 31-26 in favor of gaming legislation that would allow new casinos in Chicago and Waukegan and slot machines at Arlington and Maywood racetracks. The bill is part of a so-called “grand bargain” that includes more than a dozen budget measures such as pension reform and tax increases; all must be passed or all will fail.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association supports the measure, stating it would help the state’s racetracks compete with tracks in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and other states that use gaming revenue to boost purses. The bill would establish agreed rates to support purses and guarantee live racing opportunities and eliminate “recapture,” which takes horsemen’s purse dollars to subsidize track operations.

Fairmount Park Racetrack President Brian Zander said, “It’s very welcome news. It would produce a lot of revenue for the state of Illinois, just the initial fees we and other facilities would have to pay, it would go a long way in terms of helping out. It is no secret that Illinois is a state looking for some serious revenue. So it could really help both of us out.”

The expansion also would allow Illinois racetracks to install slot machines and other video gambling. Zander noted, “We have to get purses up and we have to put a better product on the racetrack. To the extent that we’ve been trying to get this done to compete with the states that surround us, we are a long way from the finish line, to use a horse racing term.”