Video gambling in Illinois bars only weeks away

July 18, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Eighteen locations, such as bars and veterans halls, so far are licensed to have as many as five video gaming devices up and ready to go, offering patrons entertainment and the chance to gamble at the same time.

It's the brave new world of gaming, and it underpins some 21st century manufacturing in Chicago. Yet its critics are timeless.

Waukegan-based WMS Industries is celebrating the opening of its new design studio.

The state has licensed the creation of machines that fuse video games with gambling.

"Gaming used to be a few people with a lot of money. Now it's a lot of people with a little bit of money," said WMS President and CEO Brian Gamache. "We view gaming as mainstream entertainment, so the fact that we can have more gaming in Illinois is going to be for the taxpayers' benefit."

The Illinois Gaming Board met behind closed doors Wednesday to take the pulse of Illinois' gaming industry -- specifically hearing from riverboat operators and the new kid on the block, Des Plaines Rivers Casino, on how business is going.

While gaming board members were unavailable for comment, WMS Industries, whose forebear Williams was the name in the pinball business, attracts technical, creative, and financial talent, and positions itself as key part of Chicago's future.

"We have a lot of jobs in Illinois, just 600 in the Chicago area alone, and we are hiring here. A big part of our company's hiring is going on in Chicago," said Laurie Lasseter, WMS Industries' chief technology officer.

But Thursday, the Illinois Gaming Board will hear from those opposed to expanding gambling. The economic arguments do not sway Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.

"For every dollar the government brings in, they are spending $3 on the bad effects of gambling," said ILCAAAP's Jeannie Evans. "You have a 10 percent increase in crime. You have personal bankruptcies going up, 20-40 percent. These are costs to the state."

And Common Cause, a regional think tank, has long warned about expanding video gaming terminals in Illinois. In a statement, it said, "Expansion gives more power to the gambling industry (which) gave over $9.1 million just from 2002-2011 and that was even with contribution limits laws put into place... it's not clear where money is coming from or who it is going to."

There are 18 locations now, but the Illinois Gaming Board is going through reams of applications for video gaming terminals and will likely license a bunch more starting Thursday.

A board source tells ABC7 they expect, eventually, as many as 15,000 applications from liquor establishments alone. That could mean 75,000 video gaming terminals in the not too distant future.

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