State Representative Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill to the Illinois House of Representatives, aiming to permit small businesses in Chicago to apply for a video gaming terminal (VGT) license, irrespective of their current use of illegal sweepstakes machines.

House Bill 5791 proposes an amendment to the Illinois Video Gaming Act, enabling businesses that previously operated unregulated sweepstakes machines to apply for Video Gaming Terminal (VGT) licenses.

Despite law enforcement’s classification of sweepstakes machines as controversial grey gaming devices deemed illegal, they continue to spread in Chicago, primarily due to the city’s prohibition on Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs).

If Chicago were to lift its prohibition on Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs), House Bill 5791 would establish a framework enabling businesses currently operating sweepstakes machines to apply for VGT permits akin to slot machines through the Illinois Gaming Board.

Funding Problems

Chicago persists in seeking solutions to fund its struggling pension system for first responders. The anticipated $1.7 billion Bally’s Chicago downtown casino project was expected to contribute significantly, but the progress of the Freedom Center project has faced setbacks.

The City Council of Chicago has upheld its prohibition on Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) since the state legalized these gaming machines for businesses with liquor licenses in 2012. Alongside House Bill 5791, Representative Buckner advocates for Chicago to repeal the VGT ordinance.

Buckner has engaged in discussions with city officials, who appear receptive to the idea of lifting the longstanding VGT ban, which has been in place for over a decade.

“No one would disagree that we need to look at every revenue option,” Alderman William Hall told the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has refrained from publicly stating his position on lifting the city’s VGT ban.

According to state gaming regulators, Illinoisans collectively wagered $2.8 billion on VGT machines last year.

In contrast to Chicago’s 2.7 million population, Springfield, the state capital with approximately 113,000 residents, boasts the highest number of VGT machines in the state. The city received approximately $2.5 million in local tax revenue from VGT devices last year.

Springfield is home to 137 businesses that offer VGT machines, with a total of 748 gaming devices available across these establishments as of February.

Deciphering Sweepstakes Machines

Despite Chicago’s prohibition on state-regulated Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs), numerous small businesses across the city have introduced sweepstakes devices. These grey gaming machines enable players to wager real money in exchange for store credit winnings.

The Illinois Gaming Board has consistently maintained that sweepstakes machines qualify as illegal gambling activities. In addition to addressing the pension funding issue, Mayor Johnson is actively pursuing new revenue streams to tackle Chicago’s homelessness problem.