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In the Twilight Zone: Gaming Machines and Addiction in Illinois

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

By Cole Daniels, CCPRD Outreach Worker

These days feel like living in the twilight zone -- and for many reasons. One of them is the sudden prevalence of color, flashy, and sometimes musical gaming machines in restaurants and bars. While they might appear harmless, the availability of gaming machines can become problematic and disastrous for individuals and even communities when not played and managed responsibly.

Let’s take a look at Illinois history. In 2012, video gaming was made legal in the state for bars, restaurants, and other places that pour liquor. Currently, liquor licenses are awarded by liquor commissions in municipalities. In many cases, the mayor is part of the gaming board that signs off on video gaming matters for businesses. Usually, gaming provides a mixture of benefits to both businesses to make a profit and communities for social service funding.

According to 2018 data from state gaming agencies and the 2017 U.S Census, there is a 30% tax on these machines’ revenues in Illinois with just 5% of that going to local municipalities. If this is surprising, there’s more -- Illinois has one of the lowest tax rates for these machines compared to other states, such as West Virginia and South Dakota with a 50% tax rate, Pennsylvania with 52%, and Oregon with a 74% tax rate. The prairie state has a lower investment in returning the profits back to the local community, such as to schools and other social services. Many Illinois residents are not aware of how their tax dollars are allocated or educated on the risks of problem gambling and where to go for help with addiction and financial loss.

Members of the communities where these machines are located have reported feeling direct financial strains that prove to be damaging. A 2018 article from the Chicago Tribune highlights this well. Juventina Mesa owns La Cabana Mexican Restaurant in Melrose Park. According to Mesa, customers will typically spend 2 to 4 hours at a time at one of the video poker or slot machines. These patrons will often spend around $400 at a time. “They like it, but some people lose a lot of money.” Mesa’s comments are common for most patrons who would normally just be going for a night out. According to this new report, Illinoisans lost a total of $4 billion dollars in 2017 on gaming machines. On the flipside, video gambling revenues have gone up by 75% from 2014 to 2017, according to an article from Chicago Tribune.

The financial strain on communities is clear and real, but the personal, mental strain is just as serious. A 2019 Propublica article shows that 2.2 percent of people age 18 or older experience problematic gambling behaviors, about 217,000 Illinois residents. While not everyone who gambles ends up developing an addiction, many who do have histories of trauma, abuse, and neglect that lend to the development of the addiction. People experiencing problem gambling behaviors are more likely to also have substance use disorders and mental health needs. According to Dr. Loreen Rugle, gambling problems also occur often with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. People who are vulnerable can be more at risk of developing gambling as a coping mechanism to undiagnosed or untreated mental illness.

Little gaming machines can cause big problems. However, problem gambling prevention and recovery resources are available. Research shows that most addictive behavior, including gambling, can be successfully treated with a combination of therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments.

Looking for support with a gambling problem? Visit We Know the Feeling for 24/7 online support, or call 1-800-GAMBLER. Virtual, peer-led groups are also available through Kenneth Young Center’s SMART Recovery Group and White Bison: Wellbriety Resource Guide for Native Americans.


Chase, B. (2020, August 04). 'Backdoor Casinos' Popping Up In Illinois. Retrieved December 03, 2020, from

Dr. Rugle, L. (2020, October). Lecture conducted through the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Grotto, J., & Kambhampati, S. (2019, January 16). Illinois Bet on Video Gambling - and Lost. Retrieved December 03, 2020, from

Grotto, J., & Kambhampati, S. (2019, February 20). How has the "crack cocaine of gambling" affected Illinois? The state hasn't bothered to check. Retrieved December 03, 2020, from

Green, C., Nahhas, R., Scoglio, A., & Elman, I. (2017). Post-traumatic stress symptoms in pathological gambling: Potential evidence of anti-reward processes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

McCoppin, R. (2018, November 15). 'Little baby casinos': Huge growth in video gambling boosts Illinois gaming revenue to record levels, but at what cost? Retrieved December 03, 2020, from

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