Whereas the most notable feature about gambling in Illinois in the first half of the 20th century was all about organized crime and the second half all about riverboat gambling, Illinois of the 21st century features some dandy state-of-the-art casinos owned and operated by legitimate Las Vegas-based interests.
And not only is the Illinois gambling scene vibrant and lively, the state seems intent upon expanding the offerings in years to come.
Population: 12.9 million (2016 est.)
Area: 57,915 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 12
• Illinois was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery in the U.S.
• Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is the oldest public zoo in the U.S.
• Over 75% of Illinois’s total area is devoted to farmland.
• Illinois is the United States’ leading producer of pumpkins.
Modern casino gambling in Illionis started in similar fashion to that of Iowa. Following the lead of Iowa in 1990 – and surely noting that state’s subsequent welcoming of over 2 million visitors in each of the new casinos’ first two years – a similar law was passed in Illinois in the following year. Permanently-docked facilities in Alton and Peoria opened in 1991, and Rock Island and East Dubuque riverboat casinos followed in ’92.
Twenty years later, a combination of environmental concerns and the success of the floating gaming houses led to modification of state law to allow more land-based casinos in Illinois. After legislative battles between was reached between extant riverboat casino-operating interests and racetrack owners, the latter won the right to either dock their riverboats or establish new casinos altogether while slot machines, video poker and the like were removed from the state’s horse racing tracks. As an apparent sop, simulcast racing and betting was allowed at these tracks.
Today, the state of Illinois has 12 operating casinos, three racetracks and one OTB shop in East Chicago. These numbers represent peak levels of legal casinos operating in the state.
The Vegas-operated Hollywood Casino chain has two outlets in Chicago: In aurora and Joliet. Otherwise, the list of traditional casinos in Illinois as of 2017 includes the Ameristar Casino Hotel East Chicago; Casino Queen (East St. Louis); Flamingo Slots (Rockford); the docked riverboat Grand Victoria Casino (Elgin); Harrah's Metropolis; Horseshoe Hammond Casino; Jumer's Casino & Hotel (Rock Island); the punningly-named Pair-A-Dice Hotel Casino (East Peoria); and the Rivers Casino Des Plaines.
The state's sole remaining riverboat casino is the Argosy Casino Alton.
The usual rules of the U.S. are in effect in Illinois: One must be 21 years old or older to play in the casino, while one can enjoy pari-mutuel betting at the tracks, play the state lottery or other legal games of chance in Illinois at age 18.
Before Prohibition focused the efforts of organized crime in the 1920s, Chicago was particularly rife with illegal gambling and “houses of ill repute.” In the early ’10s, historians have established that at least 50 gambling houses were doing business in downtown Chicago itself. The point here is that probably the greatest gamblers in Illinois history will never be known.
So we’re giving props here to Mont Tennes and Mike "de Pike" Heitler, who ultimately ran all illegal gambling in Chicago thanks to the greasing of police officers’ and politicians’ palms. While Heitler was iced in 1931, the Crime Doesn’t Pay? Department notes that Tennes died at the age of 73 with a personal estate valued at $5 million (worth about $81 million today).
To establish a casino in the state of Illinois, one must be licensed by the state. Illinois’s gambling commission hasn’t approved a new locale in some time, but this may change by 2020 or so (see “Future of Gambling in Illinois” below). Currently, casino gambling, pari-mutuel betting, the state lottery and online daily fantasy sports betting is permitted.
The future of gambling in Illinois will certainly be won by the pro-gambling lot: At the end of 2016, figures released by the Illinois Gambling Board released statistics showing that revenue derived from gambling in Illinois had risen some 21.5% year-on-year, from $228 million in 2015 to $277 million in ’16. This provides some niece fuel for the argument of the pro-gambling lobby to expand licensure in Illinois.
Enthusiasts and gaming tourists will definitely want to keep their eye on Illinois, as gambling scene in this state is certainly healthy and will stay so for years to come.