Oakbrook Terrace doesn’t have a casino, but residents don’t have to go far to gamble.
The city has one video gambling machine for every 46 residents, the highest density among 58 suburban locations that allow video gambling, a Daily Herald analysis shows.
The machines in Oakbrook Terrace took in nearly $5 million during the past year, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, and $227,956 went into city coffers.
Of course, with just under 2,500 residents, the city has a daytime population that can reach 60,000 with workers in its towering office buildings, visitors at its seven hotels or travelers passing by on four major highways.
“If they can’t get to the casinos, they come here,” Mayor Tony Ragucci said.
Other suburbs have particularly high concentrations, too.
East Dundee has one video gambling terminal for every 51 residents, the second-highest in the analysis. Before taxes, profits from those machines eclipsed $3.6 million over the past year, generating $169,844 for the town.
Despite the density, Carol Garritano, the owner of Carol’s Corner pub on Main Street in East Dundee, said her business continues to benefit from video gambling.
“It’s added a lot,” Garritano said. “There’s enough to share. It seems like everybody wants to get a little of the profit.”
The profits rival casinos. According to the Daily Herald analysis of 55 suburbs and three counties that allow video gambling in unincorporated areas, thousands of machines at bars, lounges, truck stops and other locations brought in $183.5 million over the past year, which represents the amount wagered minus the amount paid out in winnings, before taxes.
That’s more than every casino in Illinois except Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which had $433 million in gambling revenues in 2017. Harrah’s Joliet Casino and Hotel was second with $183 million.
What’s more, total tax revenue generated by video gambling surpassed casinos for the first time last year. The state gets 25 percent of video gambling revenue and the local government gets 5 percent.
Statewide, there’s about one machine per 444 residents.
When will the video gambling party end?
Ivan Fernandez, the executive director of the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, says only time will tell when the industry reaches a saturation point. But for now, business is good.
“You’re seeing 15 percent growth in revenues year over year, and there’s no indication that’s slowing down,” Fernandez said.
Plus, there’s a new and potentially lucrative playing field. Cook County commissioners opened unincorporated areas to video gambling this month, repealing a prohibition in place since the first machines in Illinois went live in 2012.
While some suburban areas are just getting in on the action, others are restricting video gambling over concerns about saturation.
Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said the village has not created new liquor licenses — which are required to operate video gambling machines — despite numerous requests. With one video gambling machine for every 88 residents, the village has the fourth highest per capita in the suburbs.
“I’ve had requests from nail salons, car detail places and laundromats to get liquor licenses to get gaming,” Schmit said. “We just won’t do it.”
Schmit said the village has likely reached a saturation point because local tax revenues dipped slightly last year, and he wants to protect existing businesses with video gambling.
Fernandez said the gaming machine operators association won’t push for expanded video gambling in places that don’t want it.
“We aren’t the big, bad wolf,” Fernandez said. “We aren’t looking to destroy communities.”