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Gambling is booming and it's boosting the state's revenue growth

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, September 22, 2022  |  Column  |  Greg Hinz

Opponents at City Hall derailed–at least, temporarily–proposals from Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, to put a cap on pay raises for aldermen and to prevent aldermen from making money off of real estate or legal work while serving on the City Council. But no one's here to block your path to reading today's edition of JUICE, featuring:

• Greg Hinz on how gambling is boosting state revenue.

• Another EV battery maker passes up Illinois for a neighbor.

• More on yesterday's packed City Hall meeting.

With Illinois revenues growth remaining peppy amid the COVID recovery, a new report underscores a little-realized reason why: gambling.

The state’s take from legal wagering–be it at the track, from the Lottery, or from the video poker machines at your neighborhood store–dipped only a little bit during the pandemic, mostly because the state’s riverboat casinos were closed. 

But with the casinos now reopen, video gaming stronger than ever and money from sports wagering soaring, the state’s gambling revenues are at a new high.

According to the report by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting & Accountability, the legislature’s fiscal research unit, tax revenues just to state government hit $1.877 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30. That’s up 38.8% from fiscal 2021, and nearly $500 million above the figure in pre-pandemic fiscal 2019.

In a state with an operating budget of around $43 billion, that’s big, big money. And unlike other Illinois taxes such as the sales tax, which excludes many fast-growing service areas taxed by other states, this one is providing robust annual revenue hikes.

This growth is not in traditional betting areas such as horse tracks, which have virtually disappeared in the state, or casinos, which have seen a slow but steady decrease in tax revenues, in part because the state reduced tax rates.

Rather, it’s in new areas such as video gaming, with tax revenues tripling since 2017 to $762 million a year, or wagering on sports, which is just getting started but already producing $142 million a year.

All of this is above and beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars a year that go to local governments. And the figures don’t reflect the revenue impact of the new casinos authorized by the General Assembly, including one in downtown Chicago.

Maybe they should change the line on license plates from “Land of Lincoln” to “Get Your Bet Down Now.”

Another electric vehicle battery plant that might have gone to Illinois is, instead, headed to another Midwestern state, in this case, Michigan.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports – and local sources confirm – that Chinese producer Gotion will set up a multi-billion dollar shop a little north of Grand Rapids.

Some sources say Illinois made a big play for the facility but was unable to match Michigan’s property-tax rebate and energy prices. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office flatly denies that this is the facility they were after and insists the state still is pursuing other opportunities in this space, large and small.

Rivian, which has partnered with the state in seeking a convenient battery supplier, declined to comment. 

In other news, by Marcus Gilmer

• Housing migrants: A closed YMCA in West Ridge is currently housing some of the undocumented migrants sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. 

• City uses TIF money to spark Loop housing: Mayor Lori Lightfoot is offering up public subsidies to try to bring at least 1,000 residential units to downtown's pandemic-battered core over the next five years.

• A look at the state treasurer's race: Incumbent Michael Frerichs and state Rep. Tom Demmer make their cases to be the state’s chief investment officer.

• Jones steps down: A day after federal charges were levied against him, State Sen. Emil Jones, III, resigned his leadership and committee positions on Wednesday. 

• Obama book tour: Former First Lady Michelle Obama is putting out a new book in November and is promoting it with a short book tour, including a stop in Chicago on December 5, but you'll have to register for the chance to buy tickets.