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updated: 11/12/2010 7:21 AM

Illinois gambling revenue lowest in 10 years

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  • Patrons gambling at the Empress Casino in Joliet in 2003,

    Patrons gambling at the Empress Casino in Joliet in 2003,
    Associated Press

Associated Press

Revenue from legalized gambling in Illinois is the lowest it's been in 10 years, a victim of a sagging economy and a smoking ban on riverboat casinos, according to a new report.

The Legislature's bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability determined that in the last fiscal year, gambling revenue totaled just over $1 billion. That's a 4.5 percent drop from the previous year.

The drop is "almost entirely" because of decreasing sales at the state's nine riverboat casinos. Hurt by a struggling economy and competition from other states, the dip represents a "dramatic turnaround" in receipts, the report said.

"However, the numbers continue to suggest that the biggest contributor to the drop in Illinois casino revenues is the indoor smoking ban," the report concludes.

Horse racing and lottery revenues have been flat, though some lawmakers are plotting legislation to add four riverboat casinos in Illinois with an eye toward generating revenue to close a $13 billion state budget deficit.

Gambling industry representatives say a smoking ban on riverboat casinos is to blame. Since it took effect nearly three years ago, receipts have dropped 28 percent.

"States around us still increased some. The economy around us is the same as ours. It had to be the smoking ban," Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register.

But Kathy Drea of the American Lung Association of Illinois said the economy is the main culprit. She said riverboats originally were put in parts of the state that are depressed economically, so when recession hits, there will be fewer dollars being spent.

"They are not destination vacation places," she said.

Drea said the Rock Island boat opened new facilities in 2009 and saw an increase in admissions and revenue, outperforming a boat at Davenport, Iowa, where smoking is allowed.

Legislators return to Springfield on Tuesday for their fall session. Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, is working on a bill to authorize riverboat casinos in Chicago, Danville, the south Chicago suburbs and Lake County. It would also allow 6,000 slot machines to be distributed among the state's horse racing tracks.

Link said the plan would ultimately generate $1 billion additional revenue for the state.