Illinois casino revenue down, but video slots trending up in first month back from coronavirus shutdown

Masks, plexi-glass shields and an ongoing pandemic haven’t done much to dampen the hopes of Illinois gamblers looking to score a few bucks.

The state’s 10 casinos are limited to half capacity in the age of COVID-19, but they still raked in about three-quarters of the cash they did for a comparable period last year, before the virus slashed admissions.

And the looming specter of the coronavirus certainly hasn’t scared off bettors from returning to the thousands of slot machines that have been turned back on at bars, gas stations and other establishments — and which have gobbled up 24% more dollars than they did last July.

That’s according to the latest revenue reports from the Illinois Gaming Board, the regulator that issued guidelines for gambling operations to resume July 1 with health precautions in place following an unprecedented three-month shutdown under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

The casinos racked up about $82.6 million as people made more than 483,000 trips through their turnstiles during the first month back.

That’s down about 29% compared to July 2019, when the house won about $115.8 million with almost double the admissions: about 931,000.

The 50% capacity limit set by the Gaming Board hasn’t been an issue for most casinos, and they’ve had only a handful of issues with customers refusing to wear face coverings, according to Illinois Casino Gaming Association executive director Tom Swoik.

The gaming floor of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, pictured before it reopened July 1, 2020, following a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The gaming floor of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, pictured before it reopened July 1, 2020, following a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Provided to the Chicago Sun-Times by Rivers Casino

For an industry that was brought to a full stop, “nobody had a clue” what to expect upon reopening, but the first-month numbers are “somewhat better” than many were expecting, Swoik said.

“Some people were hesitant on coming back, but now that they’ve seen how we’re taking care of things, more will keep coming back,” he said. “Those numbers will keep going up.”

It’s not clear how long it’ll take for numbers to get back to normal, if they ever do. Some casinos are anticipating their revenue will be about half their usual levels the rest of the year, Swoik said.

So far, fortunes have varied by casino — but they’re all down. The state’s most lucrative, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, took an 18% revenue hit, taking in $30.3 million this July, down from about $37 million last July.

But Jumer’s Casino in Rock Island suffered the largest setback, with $2.7 million in revenue during the month marking a 56% decline from the $6.2 million it collected in July 2019.

Numbers are trending the other way for the 35,680 slot machines that are installed at 7,137 establishments outside casinos statewide, though. Gamblers lost $166.1 million to them in the first month after the Gaming Board gave operators the green light to resume.

Video gaming terminals sucked in just $133.4 million in July 2019, though Illinois has added more than 3,000 new slots since then.

State and local governments took a bigger cut this year, too, because, with the massive gambling expansion signed last year by Pritzker, state legislators upped the tax rate on video slots from 30% to 34%.

State tax revenue from video slots came out to $48.2 million and $8.4 million for local governments this July, compared to $37.6 million for the state and $6.7 million for municipalities last July.

Meanwhile, casinos pumped $13.2 million into state coffers last month, down from $36 million last July.

Overall, casinos have made $333.3 million so far this year, compared to $778 million they made to this point during an uninterrupted 2019 gaming year.

Video slots have churned out $548.2 million in the first seven months of 2020, compared to $970.5 million over the same period last year.

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