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发表于 2019-3-30 18:11:45 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式


How Illinois Bet on Video Gambling and Lost



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A decade ago, lawmakers legalized video gambling, saying it would generate billions of dollars for the state. Instead, revenues for the state have fallen behind projections, the state has struggled to regulate the industry and video gambling companies have reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. Meanwhile, problem gambling is a big issue across the state and legislators are talking about another gambling expansion.


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 楼主| 发表于 2019-3-30 18:35:36 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 灰色空间 于 2019-3-30 20:23 编辑

How Illinois Bet on Video Gambling and Lost

Legalizing video poker and slots was supposed to generate billions of dollars for the state. A decade later, that hasn’t happened. Now, legislators want to double down on gambling.


【连接】https://features.propublica.org/ ... -gambling-and-lost/

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This story is a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago, co-published with The Chicago Sun-Times.

WITH THE LAST STREAKS OF DAYLIGHT fading on a mild October evening, the cars pulled up in waves at Piero’s Italian Cuisine, an old-school Las Vegas hotspot known for its osso buco.

Cadillacs with tinted windows. Taxis and rideshares. A black Bentley limousine and a white minivan. Men and women emerged, most casually dressed, there for the first of a series of posh, private events hosted by the video gambling industry during the 2018 Global Gaming Expo, North America’s largest gambling trade show. They included gambling executives, lobbyists — and about a dozen Illinois lawmakers.

The politicians had flown to Las Vegas to learn about the latest developments in the gambling industry and to discuss its expansion in Illinois, including proposals that would, among other items, license six new casinos in the state, legalize sports betting and increase the wagering limit on video gambling machines. The plans, lawmakers have said, would brighten the state’s gloomy financial picture without having to raise taxes or cut spending.

It wouldn’t be the first time Illinois has placed a big bet on gambling. Nearly a decade ago, state lawmakers legalized video gambling. Today, more than 30,000 video slot and poker machines operate outside casinos here, more than any other state in the country.

The machines, which legislators said would generate billions of dollars in revenue for the cash-strapped state, are spread out over 6,800 establishments, dotting highways and towns from Winnebago County in the north to Alexander County in the south. Step outside the borders of Chicago, where video gambling remains illegal, and you will see feather flags, billboards and neon signs advertising video slots and poker in bars and restaurants, truck stops and storefront gambling parlors.

Illinois now has more locations to legally place a bet than Nevada.

But the meteoric rise of video gambling has proven to be little more than a botched money grab, according to a ProPublica Illinois investigation of a system that has gone virtually unchecked since its inception. Based on dozens of interviews, a review of thousands of pages of state financial records and an analysis of six years of gambling data, this unprecedented examination found that far from helping to pull the state out of its financial tailspin, the legalization of video gambling instead accelerated it and saddled Illinois with new, unfunded regulatory and social costs.

More than 6,800 video slot and poker machines are in operation at restaurants, truck stops, fraternal organizations and storefront parlors across Illinois. Pictured here are terminals inside the Skipper Inn in Centralia, in southern Illinois. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

Meanwhile, video gambling companies have exploited the deeply flawed legislation to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, while the cities and towns that bear the brunt of the social costs related to gambling receive a fraction of those proceeds.

At every key point, state officials made decisions that undercut taxpayers and helped the companies that market video gambling. Lawmakers accepted a far smaller share of the profits than what’s charged in other states, giving the companies a much larger piece. They went forward with the program assuming the machines could be installed in Chicago — they couldn’t. They ignored the inevitable regulatory and social costs. And they did not anticipate the extent to which video gaming would cut into casino profits, which are taxed at a higher rate. The net effect: People in Illinois gambled a lot more, but most of the additional money ended up in the coffers of the companies behind video gambling.

As states and cities across the country consider gambling expansions to stabilize wobbly finances, Illinois’ experience with video gambling stands as a cautionary tale, a lesson that has become even more urgent since the U.S. Supreme Court in May opened the door to the spread of legalized sports betting.

Illinois lawmakers from both parties passed the Video Gaming Act in 2009 with little debate and unrealistic revenue projections. They did so during the depths of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, promising video gambling would help fund a $31 billion building program to create jobs and upgrade the state’s infrastructure.

Within months of the law’s passage, the state began borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars against the anticipated revenue. Bond documents claimed video gambling machines would raise $300 million each year to help cover the debt payments.

It wasn’t until 2017, eight years after the legalization of video gambling, that the state came close to collecting that amount. By then, video gambling had brought in less than $1 billion to pay the bond debt, $1.3 billion short of what lawmakers anticipated.

But the costs of video gambling had already exacted a heavy toll on the state.

Video Gambling Has Exploded in Illinois, but Promises of a Financial Windfall Have Come Up Short

Since Illinois legalized video gambling in 2009, tens of thousands of machines have been installed all over the state, except in communities where local ordinances prohibit them, such as Chicago. By hitting “play” below, you can watch the revenue generated by the machines grow over time and how those revenues failed to meet the projections of legislators.

Note: Revenue figures include accounting corrections as of Dec. 21, 2018. See our accompanying methodology for full details.
Data Source: Illinois Gaming Board
Credit: David Eads and Katlyn Alo/ProPublica Illinois

As gambling moved outside casinos, tax revenue earmarked for state education funding dropped, resulting in a $70 million decline in education funding between 2013 and 2017.

The regulatory expenses for video gambling proved far higher than anticipated, forcing the state to divert $83 million from casino taxes to support the work of the Illinois Gaming Board, run by five part-time members.

In recent years, the gaming board has been plagued by accusations of questionable conduct, including bid-rigging and violations of the Open Meetings Act. Current board officials said that their legal issues stem from conflicting and often vague statutes and that there was never an intent to violate the law.

Not surprisingly, problem gambling has become a major issue in the state, one that affects hundreds of thousands of people with little response from Springfield. Numerous studies from around the world have found that access and density of gambling options drive addiction. Yet Illinois is one of only two states with legalized video gambling — the other is West Virginia — that has never conducted research to measure the prevalence of gambling addiction.

Despite pledges to increase funding for addiction services to match the massive growth in gambling outlets, the state spends less today than it did before legalizing tens of thousands of algorithm-driven machines so adept at making people play faster and longer they have earned nicknames like “electronic morphine” and “the crack cocaine of gambling.”

More often than not, these machines are found in lower-income communities, according to a ProPublica Illinois analysis of demographic and gaming board data. Devices can be found in Berwyn but not Oak Park, Waukegan but not Lake Forest, Harvey but not Palos Park. In fact, as the average income level of a municipality decreases, the average number of machines increases.

The companies that own and operate the machines, called terminal operators, have reaped nearly $2 billion in revenue since video gambling went live in September 2012. Recently, that largess has become concentrated in a handful of companies, with the top five terminal operators controlling nearly 50 percent of the video gambling market, according to internal gaming board reports.

The companies have made those profits in no small part because their trade group, the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association — which picked up the tab for the Las Vegas dinner — wrote the Video Gaming Act. The group declined comment for this story.

The General Assembly passed the legislation without scrutinizing the details, including the low tax rate on the machines. At 30 percent, with 25 percent going to the state and 5 percent to local governments, it’s much lower than most other states with video gambling. In West Virginia and South Dakota, video gambling is taxed at 50 percent. In Oregon, where the state owns and operates video gambling machines through the state lottery, the tax rate is 73 percent. Pennsylvania, which recently legalized video gambling but hasn’t yet gone live, has set a tax rate of 52 percent.

Even casino gambling here is taxed at a higher rate, with a progressive formula that can reach as high as 50 percent.

State and local politicians have benefited from video gambling. In 2010, the year after the Video Gaming Act passed, the industry’s lobbying arm contributed $131,205 to political campaigns, five times that of the previous election cycle. The group’s donations now total more than $830,000 since 2009. One company, Effingham-based terminal operator J&J Ventures, has contributed an additional $600,000 to state and local races, the most of any terminal operator, according to an analysis of state campaign contribution records.

Video gambling has been a boon for bars, restaurants, truck stops and some fraternal organizations as well, providing additional revenue that has undoubtedly helped proprietors and created or maintained service industry jobs. But while some individual businesses have made money from video gambling, the municipalities that have welcomed it haven’t fared as well.

That’s because the Video Gaming Act allocates just 5 percent of the revenue from the machines to local governments, even though they shoulder the bulk of the social costs related to gambling. Since 2012, the roughly 1,000 towns, cities and counties with video gambling have received $283 million in tax revenue, according to an analysis of gaming board data.

A ProPublica Illinois review of local financial records shows that even in towns saturated with video slot and poker machines, the devices in most cases accounted for roughly 1 percent to 3 percent of local revenue in 2017.

Rockford, for example, brought in nearly $1.6 million in tax revenue from the machines that year, more than any other local government. That amounted to about 1.3 percent of the city’s $129 million in general revenue, according to financial data submitted to the comptroller’s office.

In 2013, 63 percent of the state’s population lived in communities that banned the industry, mirroring statewide polls that repeatedly showed a solid majority of residents were opposed to it. By 2017, industry lobbying efforts and tight local finances had flipped the percentages so that 63 percent of the state’s population lived in communities with video gambling.

Despite all the broken promises of video gambling, some lawmakers are now pushing for another big bet on the industry, with some members of the General Assembly eyeing an expansion vote in the early days of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. Many Chicago politicians also want to open the city to gambling; all the front-runners in the city’s Feb. 26 mayoral primary support some version of a casino, and some want to bring in video gambling as well.

That’s why the crowd gathered at Piero’s in October, enjoying dinner at the iconic, white tablecloth restaurant featured in the Martin Scorsese mobster film “Casino.” Among them was the co-owner of the industry’s primary lobbying firm, which shepherded the Video Gaming Act through the legislature in 2009: Joseph Berrios, former chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and the longtime county assessor until being voted out of office last year.

Berrios is an ally of House Speaker Michael Madigan, the lead sponsor of the Video Gaming Act in the House before ceding that role to Democratic Skokie Rep. Lou Lang. Lang was a staunch gambling proponent before he resigned from the General Assembly this month.

As he stepped from the cab that October night, wearing a white guayabera, Berrios paused for a moment before entering the restaurant.

“We’re an industry running strong,” he said. “After January, we’re going to be looking at a bunch of things to make us a lot stronger and a lot better.”

Illinois legislators spent little time debating the Video Gaming Act before voting to approve it in July 2009. (Steve Gadomski/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

A Rushed New Law

n the afternoon of May 21, 2009, the crowd packing the gallery overlooking the ornate Illinois House chambers, with its gilded ceiling and crystal chandeliers, became so raucous that Rep. Art Turner, the Chicago Democrat presiding over the session, had to issue an admonishment.

“I’d like to ask if we could tone down the noise and also remind the guests in the gallery that we do not allow clapping and shouting,” he reprimanded the gambling supporters and labor leaders who had gathered to watch the final vote on a bill to generate revenue for a $31 billion spending plan, dubbed Illinois Jobs Now!

Less than 48 hours earlier, a five-page proposal tinkering with an obscure provision of estate tax law had morphed into the 280-page bill now before the House. Included in the revenue-generating legislation was the Video Gaming Act, the largest gambling expansion in Illinois since the creation of the state lottery in 1974. Lawmakers were counting on video gambling to generate nearly a third of the revenue for Illinois Jobs Now!

It was a critical period for the state and its politicians.

For more than a decade, Illinois’ fiscal issues had prevented the General Assembly from funding infrastructure projects.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who introduced the Illinois Jobs Now! bill. It passed the General Assembly with strong bipartisan support. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

The 2010 election loomed, and the state was reeling amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment had reached double digits. Homes were being foreclosed. Public sentiment across the country had soured on incumbents, giving rise to the Tea Party movement and making politicians from both parties skittish.

Months earlier, Gov. Rod Blagojevich had been arrested on corruption charges and impeached, becoming the fourth governor since the 1970s — both Democrat and Republican — to be indicted.

Supporters of the gambling law told their colleagues it would help fund the $31 billion building program to create jobs while repairing roads, constructing schools and completing other infrastructure projects across the state.

Illinois Jobs Now! gave incumbents positive news to run on.

Introduced by Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, the bill represented a rare display of bipartisanship in Springfield, with Republican leaders signing onto the proposal as lawmakers heaped praise upon one another for working across party lines.

The bill passed both chambers by large margins.

Along with legalizing video gambling, the bill increased sales taxes on a host of products, including candy and liquor, while boosting fees for vehicle licenses and registrations. Bond documents show that legislators projected $1 billion overall in annual revenue, with $300 million coming from video gambling.

The gambling industry had spent years lobbying to legalize video gaming, but opponents — a coalition made up largely of church leaders — had managed to block previous efforts. This time, the lobbyist for anti-gambling forces only learned of the bill that day, leaving opponents just an hour before the measure was introduced.

Though former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn initially denounced video gambling as “a bad bet,” he reversed course and signed the bill into law on July 13, 2009. (David Banks/AP)

The Illinois Gaming Board, the state agency tasked with regulating the new industry, didn’t receive much more notice. It had learned about the legislation the week before — even though the law would increase the complexity of its work and exponentially expand the number of entities it oversees without providing any additional funding or staff to do it.

“We were not consulted prior to its passage, so we had no knowledge of what was in the bill,” said Aaron Jaffe, a former state legislator and Cook County Circuit Court judge who was then the board’s chairman.

Madigan declined a request for an interview for this article. Cullerton could not be reached. Tom Cross, the House minority leader when the Video Gaming Act passed, said he voted for it but is not a staunch supporter of video gambling.

“It’s not something that I think is good for the state,” he said.

Former Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who was part of the leadership team that negotiated the Illinois Jobs Now! legislation, said lawmakers should have spent more time examining the video gambling industry.

“Certainly, in hindsight, it should have been studied more,” she said in an interview. “My personal assessment is that it seems like a very lonely and unhealthy thing to be doing. I have no doubt that it preys on problem gamblers and vulnerable people.”

Pat Quinn, who had become governor less than six months earlier, after Blagojevich’s impeachment, had previously denounced video gambling as “a bad bet.”

Running for re-election, Quinn reversed course and signed the bill into law on July 13, 2009.

In a recent interview, Quinn said the need to stimulate Illinois’ economy during a historic economic downturn trumped his reservations about video gambling. He added that he insisted on an “opt-out” clause that would allow municipalities to block video gambling in their towns.

“I wasn’t particularly excited about video gambling,” he said. “It’s very hard to get legislators to vote for funding. I had to make a decision, and it was imperative to get people back to work.”

(David Alvarado for ProPublica Illinois)

Unintended Consequences, Immediate Shortfalls

he speed and lack of planning that marked the legalization of video gambling created a cascading series of unintended consequences that continue to plague the state today.

The legislature assumed video gambling would be up and running within a year of the bill’s passage, to quickly begin generating revenue. Instead, it took three years.

The liquor industry, which bristled at the tax increase for alcohol also contained in the bill, tied up the legislation in court, claiming the General Assembly had violated the state constitution by passing multiple substantive measures in a single bill. Regulatory hurdles also contributed to delays.

And lawmakers had counted on tens of thousands of machines being installed in Chicago to meet their revenue projections. But they somehow failed to take into account a century-old ordinance that banned gambling in the city without a referendum, which then-Mayor Richard M. Daley never embraced.

The General Assembly borrowed against the projected revenues anyway. Within a year, Illinois had issued nearly $2.5 billion in general obligation bonds — loans backed by state revenues — before it had received a single penny from video gambling.



     Nearly 30,000 video gambling machines operate
     outside of casinos in Illinois. Here, customers gamble
     inside the gaming lounge at Huck’s, a truck stop in Mt.
     Vernon, in southern Illinois. (Whitney Curtis, special to
     ProPublica Illinois)

By the time video gambling machines were turned on and players could start betting, in September 2012, the state had borrowed more than $5 billion. Debt payments reached about $340 million that year. Yet video gambling brought in just $30 million to cover them. The shortfalls meant the state had to draw from other sources.

With the budget already running massive operating deficits, the failure of video gambling to generate projected revenues exacerbated the state’s fiscal woes. Credit rating agencies began downgrading Illinois’ debt. That increased borrowing costs as pension payments and unpaid bills butchered the state’s balance sheet.

The state’s financial picture became so bleak it borrowed more than $1 billion between 2010 and 2013 to cover debt payments for capital projects that had been completed years earlier, spending future tax dollars to pay old bills — plus interest.

“The way the General Assembly constructed the capital program, by relying on video gambling revenue that failed to materialize, accelerated the state’s financial crisis,” said Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation, a government research organization.

Though lawmakers said money from video gambling and other new taxes and fees for Illinois Jobs Now! would fund $31 billion in building projects, those revenue streams have accounted for $10.5 billion in spending.

Video gambling revenue, plus other taxes and fees included in the law, was supposed to go into a special fund to pay down debt from Illinois Jobs Now! Legislators even passed a separate measure that required it. But records from the state comptroller’s office show that through 2017, just over half of the $4.8 billion collected in the capital projects fund actually went to cover the debt for Illinois Jobs Now!

Legislators wrote other laws to divert more than $600 million to pay down debt for an earlier building program, Build Illinois, which itself was supposed to be covered by sales tax revenue. An additional $1.5 billion went directly to the general fund, which is used to pay for the state’s day-to-day operations.

The legalization of video gambling also triggered another shift in the state’s revenues, one that led to a drop in education funding. While the bulk of video gambling revenue goes to fund Illinois Jobs Now!, most of the state’s casino revenue flows into the Education Assistance Fund, which provides grants to public elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities for building projects and other expenses.

But when video gambling became legal, gamblers no longer had to travel to the state’s 10 casinos to place a bet. Between 2013 and 2017, state revenue from casinos in Illinois declined 15 percent, from $462 million to $393 million, as income from video gambling machines grew nearly 900 percent, from $30 million to $300 million, state records show.

The cannibalization of casino revenue contributed to a 22 percent decline in the amount of money going to the Education Assistance Fund between 2013 and 2017, leaving fewer dollars for the state’s struggling schools.

Video Gambling Has Cut Into Education Funding From the State’s Casinos

As video gambling has spread across the state, it has cut into casino wagering and, as a result, led to a drop in education funding from gambling.

In fact, video gambling has caused the overall percentage of gambling industry profits going to the state to fall. That’s because the state levies a progressive tax on casinos that can reach as high as 50 percent. The more casinos make, the higher their tax rate.

Video gambling is taxed at a flat rate of 30 percent regardless of how much the industry makes. As more gamblers turned to video slots and poker, the state’s cut of gambling profits dropped.

In 2007, when casino revenue peaked at $1.9 billion, the industry paid about $819 million in taxes, a rate of 42 percent. By 2018, revenue from casinos and video gambling brought in $2.8 billion, up 42 percent, but the state’s share of the money was $891 million, up just 9 percent.

Much of the growth in gambling revenue came as the country began one of the longest economic expansions in U.S. history and as video slot and poker machines saturated the state, more than tripling between 2013 and 2018.

Researchers say it is unwise to count on gambling revenue to remain steady over time because it is a form of discretionary spending. That’s especially true if the economy slows.

“You cannot count on revenues from gambling; they are highly volatile and often deteriorate quickly,” said Lucy Dadayan, a senior research associate with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, who has spent years examining state and local gambling revenue around the country. “If we hit another recession, then definitely gambling revenue is going to be one of the first to be hit hard.”

Underfunded, Overwhelmed Regulators

efore the introduction of video gambling, the Illinois Gaming Board’s duties were limited to licensing and regulating the state’s 10 casinos. Each casino has a cap of 1,200 “positions,” the number of places to make a bet inside, including slot and poker machines.

Six years later, the board oversees more than 30,000 additional positions, the equivalent of 25 more casinos. And those positions are scattered across more than 6,800 locations in nearly every corner of the state.

Yet when the General Assembly passed the Video Gaming Act, it set aside no money for additional staff or resources to implement the law and oversee the industry.

Jaffe, then the chairman of the gaming board, opposed video gambling, in no small part because he felt there was no way to regulate the industry, he said.

“It’s just too big of a job,” Jaffe said. “In order to regulate it, you need a bigger board and more people. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think you can do a proper job with the resources available.”

Video gambling has created a massive regulatory burden for the Illinois Gaming Board, which consists of five part-time members, while creating an $86 million funding shortfall in regulatory expenses. Here, the board meets at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago in December 2018. (Max Herman for ProPublica Illinois)

Long before a handful of legislators and lobbyists decided it was time to legalize — and tax — video gambling, the industry had been thriving illegally.

For decades, bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and fraternal organizations housed video slot and poker machines billed as “simulated gambling devices.” Most had amusement tax stamps from the state revenue department and didn’t pay out. Instead, the machines produced printed slips showing how much was “won” or “lost.”

But the machines were widely known to be used for illegal gambling, with payouts coming from envelopes of cash stashed under the table or behind the bar. In most cases, operators split profits 50-50 with establishment owners, just as they do under the Video Gaming Act.

Known as “gray” machines, for their nebulous legal status, video gambling had long been associated with Chicago-area organized crime. Less known were the tight-knit groups of amusement companies from other parts of the state that ran “gray” machines while providing establishments with jukeboxes, pool tables and other coin-operated devices.

Lobbyists for these amusement operators drafted the Video Gaming Act, according to industry insiders and lawmakers, creating licensing guidelines and determining how profits would be divided among operators, establishments, local governments and the state.

Those operators also began entering into video gambling contracts with their existing clients well before the board could set up a regulatory structure or conduct the thousands of investigations needed to make licensing decisions.

Aaron Jaffe, a former state legislator and Cook County Circuit Court judge, was chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board when the General Assembly legalized video gambling. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Once the law passed, the gaming board was tasked with sorting out these relationships while attempting to keep unsavory operators — including those with ties to organized crime — out of the industry.

The board estimated it would need a staff of 350 to do the job, according to internal agency reports. Yet the number of workers has never topped 286 and dipped as low as 233 in the past three years, even as the industry has grown. At one point, the board had a single lawyer to help regulate what has become a highly litigious industry.

Often, the board must face off against companies that have more resources, time and expertise than the state. One reason for the lack of resources: The Video Gaming Act fails to provide enough money to cover the regulatory costs.

The law designates 75 percent of licensing and administrative fees to pay for investigators and attorneys to vet licensing applications as well as write and enforce rules. But those fees are much lower than other jurisdictions. Pennsylvania, for example, charges $25,000 to apply for a terminal operator’s license. The price in Illinois: $5,000.

The owners of licensed establishments, such as bars and restaurants, pay just $100 annually to maintain a license and, until December, paid nothing at all to apply for it, even though the board expends extensive resources on licensing decisions. Last month, legislators passed a law instituting a $100 application fee.

“We clearly have some fees that are shockingly low,” said Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Donald Tracy, a Springfield attorney, appointed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2015. “Why would you do that if you’re trying to get revenue for the state? I guess you have go back and ask who drafted this legislation. If it’s gaming lobbyists, maybe that explains why the fees are so low.”

Lang, the Skokie Democrat who sponsored the bill, overestimated how much fees would bring in, telling fellow lawmakers they would provide $4.5 million a year for regulatory expenses. Instead, fees have never generated more than $3.4 million. Lang did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang was a staunch proponent of gambling, including video gambling. In early January, he resigned his House seat to join a lobbying firm. (Stacy Thacker/AP)

Even if the administrative fees had met projections, regulating video gambling has turned out to cost far more. Legislators never studied how much it would cost to regulate video gambling, even though board members say the industry now makes up the vast majority of the agency’s work.

In 2013, the first full year of legalized video gambling, state financial reports show the board spent $15 million regulating the industry. Those costs reached $17 million by 2017. Yet fees set aside for regulatory expenses averaged just $2.9 million during that time, leaving a total shortfall of more than $83 million over five years.

Filling in the funding gap: casino revenue. Yet casino revenue has been in decline. That decline, coupled with the state’s budget woes, caused the gaming board’s budget to fall more than 6 percent between 2013 and 2017, despite rapid growth in the number of video gambling machines and locations around the state.

“My view is that there should be some kind of professional study to review the licensing fees and the taxes, and I have suggested that,” Tracy said.

What’s more, a month before the Video Gaming Act passed, Quinn signed an executive order removing the board from under the Illinois Department of Revenue and making it a stand-alone agency.

Jaffe, then the board chairman, had requested the move, arguing the Revenue Department’s control of the gaming board slowed hiring and other moves the board wanted to make. But when he made the request, Jaffe was unaware the board’s responsibilities would soon greatly expand.

One of state government’s largest agencies, the Revenue Department provided oversight and supplemented policy decisions with an army of analysts, lawyers and technical experts.

Without that support, an underfunded agency overseen by five part-time board members — who receive $300 a meeting — found itself regulating a sprawling industry with little supervision. The vague law and its weak administrative rules made licensing and contract decisions seem arbitrary, leading to a series of missteps.

A video gambling room is located next to the salad bar at Trackside Bar & Grill in Mt. Vernon. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

In at least two cases, the board reversed decisions to permanently bar people from the industry whom it deemed unfit, after court challenges claimed the moves exceeded the board’s legal authority.

A ProPublica Illinois review of meeting minutes and interviews with two board members, including Tracy, found the board’s former administrator entered into a legal agreement with a video gambling operator from Louisiana without board knowledge or approval. The former administrator, who left his position in March after 16 years, declined to comment.

And in May, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled in a lawsuit that the board had violated the Open Meetings Act by improperly going into a closed session, then misrepresented what happened in meeting minutes.

ProPublica Illinois has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking a recording of the closed session at the center of that case.

In a statement, Tracy disputed the judge’s ruling but said the board has changed its procedures for going into closed session. He also said that conflicts between the Video Gaming Act and the Open Meetings Act have made the board vulnerable to lawsuits from the well-funded industry.

“We have a statute that is somewhat sparse, to be kind.” Tracy said in an interview. “And we’re talking about high-stakes licenses that have tremendous potential value. As a result, when we say no, we get sued.”

In another lawsuit, a Cook County judge froze an exclusive state contract to test video gambling machines and ordered the board to reconsider the contract after evidence suggested gaming board staff gave preferential treatment to a New Jersey-based company. The contract was rebid, though Tracy denied the board had shown preferential treatment.

The board’s government attorneys often have little expertise in gambling litigation compared to the industry’s more experienced, high-priced lawyers, Tracy said.

“There’s just so much money in this industry,” he said. “We are litigating against people with the very best lawyers, companies that can put unlimited amounts of time into these cases and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars litigating against us.”

Another Push to Expand

The rush to legalize video gambling in hopes of generating quick, painless revenue battered the state’s finances, left unfunded social and regulatory costs and exposed the gaming board to a barrage of legal challenges.

None of that has stopped some members of the General Assembly from pushing yet another massive gambling expansion bill as they continue to forage for ways to bring in revenue without raising taxes or cutting spending.

In the more than nine years since the Video Gaming Act passed, the influence of the industry has only increased. And lawmakers seem ready to make many of the same mistakes. At hearings last fall on a new gambling expansion bill, there was no discussion about whether the gaming board can handle a larger workload and little acknowledgement of the social costs of gambling.

Now, as newly sworn-in legislators open the 101st General Assembly, with a rookie, billionaire governor who was a longtime investor in Elgin’s Grand Victoria Casino, here’s what lies on the table: sports gambling; six new casinos; and, for the video gambling industry, higher wagering, bigger payouts and even more machines.

A man plays a video slot machine in a lounge at Huck’s, a truck stop in Mt. Vernon. The companies that own and operate video gambling machines, known as terminal operators, have reaped nearly $2 billion in revenue since video gambling went live in September 2012. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)
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 楼主| 发表于 2019-3-30 19:48:25 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 灰色空间 于 2019-3-30 20:24 编辑

How Has the “Crack Cocaine of Gambling” Affected Illinois? The State Hasn’t Bothered to Check.

Since video gambling went live in 2012, more than 30,000 video slot and poker machines have been installed in the state and gamblers have lost more than $5 billion. Yet Illinois has failed to address the issue of gambling addiction in any meaningful way.


【连接】https://features.propublica.org/ ... addiction-illinois/

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This story is a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago, co-published with The Chicago Sun-Times.

with a clipboard. Tall and broad-shouldered, with wispy white hair where a pompadour once rose, the former statistical engineer for Caterpillar removes a sheet of paper, clicks on the flashlight he uses for reading and goes over his numbers.

One spin every six seconds. Ten spins a minute. Six hundred spins an hour.

The 81-year-old widower estimates that, at his worst, in 2015 and 2016, he spent about $2,400 a week on video slot machines, which he played at a hotel and a handful of restaurants and bars around his hometown of Maroa, a farming community of close to 1,700 people north of Decatur in central Illinois.

“It hurts to lose that money,” he said. “I’m addicted to these machines, and I’ve been working hard to understand why for a long time.”

In the 6 ½ years since video gambling went live in September 2012, some 30,000 video slot and poker machines have been installed at 6,800 locations around Illinois, more than in any other state. Gamblers here have lost over $5 billion playing the algorithm-driven machines, which have been described as “electronic morphine” and “the crack cocaine of gambling.”

Yet the state has failed to address the issue of gambling addiction in any meaningful way. Lawmakers introduced and passed the 2009 Video Gaming Act in less than 48 hours, without holding a single hearing or conducting even a cursory study of the potential impact of the massive gambling expansion. Despite promises to increase funding for gambling addiction, Illinois spends less today than it did before legalizing the machines, a ProPublica Illinois/WBEZ investigation has found.

Over the past decade, the number of people receiving state-funded treatment has declined. The state has allocated inadequate amounts for marketing campaigns to encourage people with gambling problems to seek help. It has spent no money to conduct research to measure the prevalence of addiction or to gauge which treatments are most effective.

What’s more, the state has failed to adopt basic prevention measures, such as a self-exclusion list that would allow individuals to bar themselves from playing the machines or safeguards to ensure underage people don’t gamble on the devices.

Instead, Illinois lawmakers have fixated on how much money video gambling has brought into state coffers, though a ProPublica Illinois/WBEZ investigation in January found that the revenue has fallen far short of the legislature’s projections, even as video gambling saddled the state with unfunded social and regulatory costs.

Orville Dash, 81, said he spent about $2,400 a week on video gambling machines at the height of his addiction, in 2015 and 2016. He often played at locations around his home in Maroa, Illinois, a farming community of close to 1,700 in central Illinois. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

Now, some lawmakers and the gambling industry are pushing another expansion that would include sports betting, new casinos and even more video slot and poker machines. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for legalized sports gambling, and other states have begun to explore gambling expansions in hopes of tapping potential revenue streams.

Of the eight states that have legalized video gambling outside of casinos, Illinois is one of two — the other is West Virginia — that have chosen not to track the rate of gambling addiction, a decision a leading gambling researcher calls “mind-boggling,” considering the number of video gambling machines in the state and the amount of money being wagered.

A conservative estimate, using what most researchers set as a national average for gambling addiction — 2.2 percent of people 18 or older — would suggest about 217,000 Illinois residents are addicted to gambling. (Like substance abuse, gambling addiction is generally defined as behavior that jeopardizes someone’s financial security, relationships and emotional well-being.)

The number of people afflicted is likely higher, however, because studies show the rate of gambling addiction tends to increase with the number of gambling options, and Illinois has more locations to place a bet than Nevada.

Yet even as video gambling expanded, state spending on addiction fell nearly 20 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to the most recent figures available. The number of people assessed or treated for gambling addiction by state-funded providers declined nearly 37 percent during that time.

While Illinois’ highways are dotted with billboards advertising video gambling, little money has been spent to raise public awareness of gambling addiction or market what few resources are available to combat it. The most prominent, the state’s 1-800-GAMBLER hotline, received 2,324 calls in 2018, according to state records. Of those, 837 callers were seeking help; the rest were wrong numbers or people calling for other reasons.

Video gambling machines like this one in Rockford offer players a number of gambling options, including slots and poker. (David Kasnic for ProPublica Illinois)

Video gambling revenue reached $1.2 billion in 2017, yet the industry is required to contribute little to the state’s efforts on gambling addiction. That’s because, unlike at least three other states with legalized gambling, Illinois does not set aside tax money from video gambling to fund addiction services.

“With gambling, the social impact is just not visible until it affects you or your family,” said Anita Pindiur, executive director of the Maywood-based treatment center Way Back Inn, which treats about 80 people with gambling problems a year. “Our state is so driven by the money video gambling brings in, we don’t see the people it impacts.”

Go to a pizza joint in Springfield or a gambling parlor in Elmwood Park, a motel in the central Illinois town of Clinton or a string of bars in Berwyn, and there’s ample evidence of the problem. Whether it’s mid-afternoon or after midnight, you’ll see people robotically feeding bill after bill into flashing, ringing games.

“To me, it must have been the urge for some big win. Something for nothing, perhaps,” Dash said. “For other folks, they’re trying to get the money to pay the rent. Because they spent that money yesterday. And the food money goes. And the hand-wringing. And the crying. I’ve seen it all.”

Like Alcohol or A Drug

n May 2013, less than a year after video gambling went live in Illinois, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified “gambling disorder” from a compulsion to an addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which clinicians use to diagnose and classify mental illnesses.

“Many clinicians have long believed that problem gamblers closely resemble alcoholics and drug addicts, not only from the external consequences of problem finances and destruction of relationships, but increasingly on the inside as well,” said Dr. Charles O’Brien, a prominent psychiatrist and addiction researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who helped write the classification change.

O’Brien and other researchers say brain imaging studies show that, much like drugs or alcohol, gambling triggers spikes in the chemical dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward system and influences human behavior. Researchers have found that gambling addiction is often accompanied by other forms of addiction.

Those who are susceptible wager beyond their means or spend inordinate amounts of time gambling. Unable to see, or indifferent to, far-reaching consequences, they may find themselves lying to loved ones, turning to crime to cover their losses or becoming suicidal.

“To me, it was a vicious circle, going back to the bars because of the high when you won,” said a 51-year-old mother of two from Springfield. She said she lost her business and still struggles to keep away from the machines. “You walk out and think you’re never going to do it again. But before you know it, you lose.”

The gambling industry and some researchers say there is no evidence video gambling is more addictive than other forms of gambling, though few studies focus on this question. They argue that some people are at risk of becoming addicts regardless of the type of gambling they choose.

Christine Reilly, senior research director at the National Center for Responsible Gaming, a nonprofit largely funded by the gambling industry, pointed to NCRG-funded research that found 70 percent of gambling addicts already suffered from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. That, she said, makes them susceptible to developing a gambling addiction.

“There are lots of people who took cocaine and never got addicted,” Reilly said. “It’s the relationship between the person and their vulnerabilities. Things are not inherently addictive.”

Video gambling machines are often found at truck stops, restaurants, bars or, in the case of these gambling parlors, in strip malls. (David Kasnic for ProPublica Illinois)

Yet other studies have shown that people may develop a gambling addiction first, and that can lead to other conditions, such as depression, substance abuse or other mental health issues.

“There is research that shows it’s really a two-way street,” said Rachel Volberg, an associate professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst and a leading gambling researcher.

The state’s trade group for video gambling, the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, said in a written statement that “there has been no concrete evidence of widespread gaming problems related to video gaming” and that the group has “committed significant resources and effort to fighting problem gaming.”

Researchers and clinicians generally agree greater access to gambling can increase addiction rates. They say the wide proliferation of video gambling in Illinois has likely fueled a rise in addiction here. It’s a phenomenon clinicians say they see every day.

But Illinois doesn’t know the extent of its gambling addiction problem or how it has changed as the number of gambling locations has grown. The legislature never commissioned a prevalence study to measure the rate of gambling addiction, which researchers and clinicians say is a crucial first step to combat the disease.

“If you have that many machines that widely distributed and you have no idea what the impacts are, how do you even know where to start?” asked Volberg.

“Electronic Morphine”

n a Thursday afternoon, you can walk into a gambling parlor on North Harlem Avenue in Elmwood Park and find players who have wandered across the street from the Chicago side, where video gambling remains illegal. The attendant may ask if you’d like a drink, or you can take a butterscotch candy from the crystal bowl at the counter before you sit down to play.

Pick a game like Wolf Run, with a theme featuring dream catchers and the silhouette of a wolf howling at a full moon. The game allows players to bet as much as $2 a turn, distributing their money among as many as 200 lines that zig-zag across the screen like a digital spider’s web. Each line combination could be a winner.

Deposit a $5 bill into the machine and bet the minimum: 40 lines for 40 cents. Hit the spin button, and flutes, electronic horns and whistles blare while the virtual reels spin. As each reel comes to a stop, it sounds as if gears are locking into place. Suddenly, a wolf howls, more bells and whistles go off and lights flash. The screen shows you’ve “won” 10 cents.

The Sunset Inn & Suites in Clinton, Illinois, features a video gambling room open to guests and local residents. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

But because the bet was 40 cents, you’ve actually lost 30 cents, or 75 percent of your wager, a sleight of hand known as a “false win” that, experts say, keeps people gambling. The $5 is gone in minutes.

Some researchers describe video gambling as “electronic morphine” and “the crack cocaine of gambling.” Every detail of the video gambling experience, from the lights and the shape of the buttons to the sound effects, has been meticulously designed to make people play longer and faster — to spend more money.

In her book, “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas,” New York University cultural anthropologist Natasha Schüll spent years examining how players in Las Vegas became hooked on video gambling and how the design of video gambling machines and software played into their addictions.

“I don’t think slot machine designers have as their main goal to create an addict, but what they do have as their main goal is to monetize our attention,” Schüll said.

Each individual machine contains an array of games, which are targeted at different kinds of players. Some feature themes centered around shopping, jewelry and makeup; others depict busty, scantily clad women.

The games create the impression that gamblers can control the outcome by touching the screen or hitting the spin button to stop the virtual wheels. But the outcome is determined the moment a player pushes the button.

Many players believe machines run hot or cold, as if the devices get on streaks, or that the more spins a player makes, the greater the chances of a payout. In fact, video gambling machines take a fixed percentage of the amount wagered over a set number of spins or amount of time, known as the “hold” or the “house edge.” Data from the Illinois Gaming Board, which regulates the industry, shows that, on average, the machines take more than 25 percent of the money put into them.

Video gambling chairs, which can cost hundreds of dollars, are built to be occupied for long periods, with padding and ergonomic designs. Some look like recliners, with buttons embedded in the armrests, so people can play without moving their arms.

Anatomy of a Video Gambling Experience

Gone are the days when playing the slots meant pulling a lever on a clanky machine. Today’s video gambling machines are like computer games, with sophisticated algorithms designed to make people bet more and play longer. Here’s what one video gambling experience might look like, though set-ups vary greatly.

In her book, Schüll describes interviews with gambling addicts who talk about a trance-like state they call “the zone.” Absorbed in the sights and sounds emanating from the slot machines, they lose track of time as they settle into a rhythm the machines are programmed to accommodate. Often, that rhythm is quick-paced, with small doses of wins or “false wins” egging on the brain’s reward system to keep playing.

“The solitude factor goes hand-in-hand with the speed factor as you can play up to 1,200 spins an hour,” Schüll said. “That’s why slot machine designers talk about a reward schedule.”

A Lack of Funding — and Concern

n May 2009, when the Video Gaming Act came up for a final vote, not a single member of the state Senate spoke about the social costs of gambling. In the House, according to transcripts, only one lawmaker, Rosemary Mulligan, a Republican from Park Ridge, questioned what Illinois would do to combat gambling addiction.

“Video gaming is one of the most addictive forms of gaming,” said Mulligan, who died in 2014. “So, I would like to see [the law] fund something that has long been underfunded in Illinois.”

That didn’t happen. In 2016, Illinois ranked 28th out of 40 states nationally in per capita funding for addiction services, according to the most recent survey from the National Council on Problem Gambling, a nonprofit that advocates for problem gamblers but says it takes no position on legalized gambling.

That’s because legislators structured the Video Gaming Act and the finances behind it with little concern for the potential consequences. The law called for the state’s share of video gambling revenues to cover borrowing costs for building projects. Licensing and administrative fees would pay for regulating the industry and confronting social costs, such as addiction.

In 2017, for instance, video gambling players lost $1.2 billion, according to state reports. The state’s take was about $300 million. Cities and towns that are home to video gambling received about $60 million. Terminal operators and establishments took in $840 million.

A man plays a video slot machine in a lounge at Huck’s, a truck stop in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

The sponsors of the Video Gaming Act estimated licensing and administrative fees would reach $6 million a year and promised 25 percent, or $1.5 million of that, would be set aside for addiction services. Yet those licensing and administrative fees have never amounted to more than $4.2 million. As a result, the legislature has never appropriated more than $1.03 million.

At the same time, the agency tasked with issuing grants for treatment, outreach and training for clinicians, the Illinois Department of Human Services, has struggled to spend the money that is appropriated each year. In 2012, for instance, DHS spent 83 percent of the funds appropriated for gambling addiction, according to DHS financial reports and figures from the comptroller’s office. By 2017, the percentage had dropped to 63 percent.

DHS officials say providers have had trouble getting gambling addicts to seek treatment and that there are not enough clinicians in the state who specialize in gambling addiction. They point out that providers often don’t spend all the money they’re awarded in contracts. In 2017, for example, DHS awarded $794,000 in contracts but providers spent just $600,000.

“It has been challenging for our gambling disorder providers to bill for the full amounts of their IDHS contracts that support these services,” DHS said in a written statement to ProPublica Illinois. “While there are many people who have serious problems with gambling, only a small percentage actually seek treatment.”

DHS, the statement said, “is committed to supporting community outreach and education to battle the stigma associated with addiction and encourage more people to begin the path to recovery.”

Yet between 2012 and 2017, DHS spending for gambling addiction declined 20 percent, from $807,000 to $646,000, even as the number of video gambling machines grew dramatically around the state and appropriations increased slightly. The number of people receiving services also dropped by 37 percent, from 6,773 to 4,274 during that time.

DHS officials said some of the decline in patient numbers may be attributed to gambling addicts being treated for accompanying alcohol or drug abuse, and included in those numbers instead.

Service providers say few problem gamblers know where to turn because the state doesn’t do enough to build awareness. They say they need more billboards, TV and radio ads and sophisticated social media campaigns to educate the public about how to identify the warning signs of problem gambling.

“That’s why we don’t get people in for treatment until they’ve lost their home or their job or their family — or they’re suicidal,” said Pindiur, of the Way Back Inn.

DHS officials said the stigma around gambling addiction is greater than substance abuse, since there are fewer outward signs of trouble and many people still doubt that gambling addiction is a real disease. That’s one reason the agency has begun to focus more on outreach and awareness, the officials said.

Donald Tracy (center), chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board, says the board has taken what he called a “baby step” toward addressing addiction to video gambling, creating a registry that sends “regular e-mails providing information on problem gambling and containing links to problem gambling prevention and treatment resources.” (Michelle Kanaar, special to ProPublica Illinois)

In 2017, DHS used more than 40 percent of the money it spent, or about $300,000, on outreach and awareness, compared with 25 percent in 2009. DHS officials said they are planning a push in March to coincide with Problem Gambling Awareness Month, which will include a new website, as well as mailers, flyers and posters distributed around the state.

A lack of clinicians certified to treat gambling addiction has also made it hard to tackle the problem, according to DHS. While private therapists can help addicts, some experts say many private therapists aren’t trained to properly assess and treat people with gambling issues.

With few options, gamblers seeking help often attend one of the state’s more than 60 Gamblers Anonymous meetings each week. Researchers say studies haven’t been done to evaluate the 12-step program’s effectiveness, and Gamblers Anonymous officials said they haven’t studied the issue either. Although many people who attend the meetings say they believe the program helps them, a majority of those meetings are held in and around Chicago, leaving gambling addicts outside the metropolitan area with fewer options.

“Patients have nowhere to go. They don’t know who to call,” said Dr. Donald Black, of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa and a prominent gambling researcher who has studied addiction in Illinois. “The central theme around video gambling is no one cares.”

A Possible Measure For Prevention

ne measure has proved somewhat effective at helping problem gamblers: a registry, called a self-exclusion list, that allows people to bar themselves from gambling. Illinois has had one in place since 2002 for the state’s 10 casinos. But the state has yet to implement one for video gambling.

Illinois Gaming Board officials acknowledge the technology to create a self-exclusion list exists but said that implementing it across the state’s 6,800 video gambling locations poses a huge hurdle and would likely lead to steep revenue declines.

A 2015 gaming board memo that examines self-exclusion programs around the world suggests the impact on revenue is among the biggest obstacles. “One might argue,” the memo says, “that the most binary of approaches has emerged: a forced choice between profit and social responsibility.”

A 2016 gaming board memo acknowledges video gambling “will result in numerous additional problem and compulsive gamblers.” The challenges of implementing a self-exclusion list for video gambling, the memo says, include “a lack of political fortitude on the part of elected officials facing growing budget deficits.”

A woman uses a video slot machine at Uncle Fester's, a video gaming parlor in Fairview Heights, Illinois. More than 30,000 video gambling machines operate outside of casinos in Illinois. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

Any effort by the gaming board to implement a self-exclusion list would require approval from the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR. For years, gambling interests have lobbied successfully to thwart the board’s proposed rules on a range of issues. Because any self-exclusion list would probably cut into revenue, the industry would likely oppose it.

Board chairman Donald Tracy, a Springfield attorney, said he doesn’t believe the threat to revenue alone has scuttled the program. “It’s an indirect factor only in the sense that we’re realists,” he said. “We have experienced pushback from the legislature and JCAR and the industry when we try to do something that people are opposed to.”

As of November, more than 13,000 people, including some 9,000 Illinois residents, had put themselves on the state’s self-exclusion list for casinos. Of those, nearly 38 percent, or about 5,700, say video gambling was why they applied to be placed on the list, according to gaming board statistics.

Self-exclusion lists are easier to enforce at casinos because there are only 10, gaming board officials said. If people on the list are caught gambling, they must forfeit winnings, which are donated to nonprofits that tackle gambling addiction. They can also be charged with trespassing.

Other countries have established self-exclusion lists for video gambling. Sweden, for instance, requires anyone who wants to play video slot and poker machines outside of casinos to register and receive a player card or government-issued ID, which must be swiped at each device before a bet can be placed.

It’s not clear how the registration has affected addiction rates in Sweden, but it has led to a 30 percent drop in revenue there, according to research cited in the 2015 gaming board memo.

The gaming board has taken what Tracy called a “baby step” toward addressing video gambling addiction. In February 2018, the board created a registry that sends “regular e-mails providing information on problem gambling and containing links to problem gambling prevention and treatment resources” in the state.

As of this month, 40 people had signed up for the registry, according to the gaming board.

“This is probably one of those initiatives that hasn’t been given the priority that perhaps it needs,” Tracy said. “We need to get back on track and become more focused on this issue.”

Illinois legislators could require the board to implement a self-exclusion list — and provide funding to study the issue — but have made no move to do so. Gamblers on the casino self-exclusion lists and clinicians said the lack of one for video gambling has added obstacles to their recovery.

A sign at Rosalie’s Lucky 7 Cafe, which is next to Rosalie’s Hair Design in Niles, Illinois. (David Kasnic for ProPublica Illinois)

“The people we work with who have developed problems with video gambling have asked for a self-exclusion program for video gambling and expressed confusion why there isn’t one,” said Elizabeth Thielen, senior director of NICASA Behavioral Health Services, a nonprofit that treats about 40 gambling addicts a year at its northern Illinois locations.

Another option to combat problem gambling is to add technology to the machines to control play. Some provinces in Canada have installed tracking devices on video slot and poker games to limit the time and money spent on each machine. In Illinois, gaming board officials said they believe these measures are ineffective, since players can simply move to other machines or locations.

Teenagers are among a growing population of problem gamblers, according to treatment providers. Some video gambling machines are located in places where no one checks that players are at least 21, the legal age for gambling in Illinois. The legislature has failed to enact basic measures other states follow to help prevent underage gamblers from using the machines, such as requiring a manager on duty to check identification or keeping machines out of view of those under 21.

The gaming board only began enforcing the ban on underage video gambling in September 2015, three years after the games went live, according to a review of meeting minutes. Tracy said the board takes the issue of underage gambling seriously, levying fines of up to $5,000 on locations caught in the board’s underage sting operations.

“[Underage gambling] is a gigantic problem here because we have 6,800 locations,” said Tracy, who took over the board in February 2015. “If we were dealing with like 30 or 40 of them, it sure would be a lot easier to devise a solution. We need to do more, and I think that is one area that has suffered from a lack of resources.”

A 42-year-old Gamblers Anonymous member named Leon, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said he realized he was a problem gambler when he lost money he had set aside to pay his mortgage and had to tell his husband. He said he is on the state’s casino self-exclusion list but wishes he could place himself on a list for video gambling.

“Those little gambling establishments are [on] every corner now, in every restaurant, every gas station,” he said after attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Downers Grove.

When he called a video gambling company to ask about a self-exclusion list, he was told he should just keep away from establishments with the machines, he said.

“I’m like, ‘Lady, tell a heroin addict not to put needles in his arm,’” he said. “They don’t get it.”

His Most Difficult Addiction

itting in his recliner on a brisk, sunny autumn afternoon, his pudgy dog Nikki snoring on the carpet beside him, Orville Dash said he had managed to stay away from the machines for three or four months.

It wasn’t because he’d kicked his addiction. He suffers from macular degeneration, lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, he said; he’d become wobbly on his feet and recently had fallen, cracking two ribs. Only his ailments were keeping him home.

Orville Dash, a former statistical engineer at Caterpillar, says he lost more than $25,000 on video slot machines. (Whitney Curtis, special to ProPublica Illinois)

A recovering alcoholic and former longtime smoker, Dash said he entered a treatment program for alcohol abuse while at Caterpillar in the 1970s. There, he learned about the 12-step program, which he has used in his efforts to quit gambling.

In 2016, as he began to confront his addiction, Dash wrote himself a letter as part of his recovery effort.

“I have a history of addictive behaviors, including alcohol, smoking and most recently playing slot machines,” he wrote. “I have been sober for 30 years, smoke-free for 14, and am just entering the effort to overcome a gambling addiction. I have some confidence I can overcome this addiction. But it is beyond a doubt the most difficult of the issues I’ve faced.”

Two years later, as he reviewed the calculations showing how much he had lost, his confidence had waned. He struggled to understand why he kept returning to video slots. Despite his statistical training, he couldn’t contain the irrational hope that he would beat the odds and come out ahead.

“I knew better than that, but I did it anyway.”
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