The parlor had been open just over an hour, but the only people inside were the owner and a handful of men changing out a few video gaming machines.
Bailey’s Place in downtown Peru was getting some new equipment this week, just in time for the tail end of the busiest gaming month of the year.
March is a popular time for gambling in Illinois, with almost all forms of legalized betting seeing increased revenue. But in the day-to-day operations of a gaming parlor, the revenue spike isn’t immediately recognizable.
The numbers show March is the prime time to place your bets, with the month posting record breaking totals both locally and statewide for video gaming the past three years.
“It could be because people are getting their taxes back,” Pascoe said. “And the weather starts to get nice again. It gets people out.”
March also happens to be Problem Gambling Awareness Month, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. The council’s executive director, Keith Whyte, said Illinois’ revenue spike and the council’s awareness event are unrelated.
But why does a particular time of year see increased spending on gambling for Illinois’ riverboat casinos, video gaming, horse racing and lottery?
“An honest answer is I don’t know,” said Dr. Kirk Moberg, executive medical director of the UnityPoint Health Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. “There are certain times of year that can trigger relapse but those are more associated with holidays.”
For 12 of the past 13 years, March has been the top month. Since 2000, only three years have seen March not be the top earning month for Illinois’ riverboat casinos. In total, March has been the top month for 18 of the 28 years casino gaming has been available in Illinois.
“The best reason we can come up with is the weather,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. “Normally, March is our biggest month and it’s been that way for years. It’s the first time you start to see warm weather and people want to get out of the house for some entertainment.”
December is currently the leader for video gaming revenue in Illinois, but March is coming on strong.
For the last three years, March has been the top month and March 2018 is currently the record holder for most revenue earned in one month.
Video gaming does have a small sample size. There are only six full years of revenue on the books and September, October, November and December got a head start when video gaming first began in 2012.
For La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties, the local numbers follow the statewide trend where March has been the most profitable month for the past three years.
It’s not too often May is toppled as the top earning month for horse racing in Illinois. The Kentucky Derby, one of the biggest gambling events of the year, kicks off the month.
And March doesn’t really compete too well with the summer months of horse racing. June, July and August have historically been better. But those are the months when Illinois tracks are most active with live racing. As for the more “off-season” months, March still sits on top ahead of both April and September.
But March does act as a starting point for the horse racing season, said Illinois Racing Board director Domenic DiCera. DiCera said horse racing goes through a “dark period” without live racing for most of January and February, which is why March may see a spike in revenue when the season gets underway.
“This is treated like opening day for any other sport, it’s a build up to a beginning,” he said.
DiCera said typically Hawthorne Race Course is the only one of Illinois’ three open courses that runs live races in March.
Lottery officials attribute the higher March sale numbers to holiday carryover.
“While warmer weather and Spring optimism could have a positive effect on sales, the increase in sales the Illinois Lottery sees in the month of March largely can be attributed to the retail reconciliation of our popular holiday instant tickets activated late in the year,” said Jason Schaumburg, communications director for the Illinois Lottery.
He said people who win on scratch offs or other holiday tickets tend to hold the winners for about a 90 day period.
“Holiday tickets tend to reconcile closer to the end of that 90-day period because holiday gift recipients often neglect to validate and cash their tickets during that time, particularly for smaller prize amounts,” Schaumburg said.