SPRINGFIELD — If the state of Illinois wants more revenue from video gaming, one gaming industry executive said Thursday, lawmakers should loosen betting restrictions rather than raise video gambling tax rates.
Ivan Fernandez, who heads the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, offered that proposal to the state House Executive Committee, which is considering several alternatives for increasing state revenue from video gambling.
“Our proposal is projected to far exceed (Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s) request, without resorting to a tax increase,” Fernandez said.
The Executive Committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. Chris Welch of Hillside, heard testimony Thursday from representatives of the video gambling industry who unanimously oppose a proposed tax hike that Gov. Pritzker outlined in his late-February budget address. No legislation has been introduced so far.
Video gambling machines are taxed at 30 percent, with the remaining money split 50-50 between the machine operator and the establishment housing the machines. Pritzker’s plan would increase that state’s tax rate to 50 percent, resulting in more than $100 million in new revenue for state and local governments.
Opponents have framed their argument around the local establishments – mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, VFW posts and more – that they say rely on the machines for increased foot traffic and, ultimately, successful business.
Elements of Fernandez’s proposal include raising the bet limit on single plays from $2 to $4, increasing the maximum winnings on a single play from $500 to $1,199, allowing games with higher jackpots, and increasing the number of gambling terminals allowed at one location from five to six.
Those measures, Fernandez said, would create $210 million in new tax revenue the first two years, without changing the tax rates.
Sweepstakes are in many ways similar to video gambling machines, but do not fall under the same state oversight, nor are taxes on them paid to state and local governments, according to a WBEZ investigation last year.
Cory Aronovitz, a lawyer with the Chicago-based Casino Law Group, told lawmakers unfamiliar with the matter that the machines are kiosks for “product promotion,” meaning a person pays cash to the machine, receives, for example, a coupon for a discount on items on a website, then gets the chance to win cash by playing a slots-like game.
On top of considering how to legalize sports betting and whether to allow more casinos in Illinois, state lawmakers are also considering changes to policy affecting the video gambling terminals that appear in almost 7,000 local establishments across the state.