For most of the past 25 years I have been covering the gaming industry, and I have seen a lot of things come to fruition that I would have thought highly unlikely back in the very early 1990s. For example, I never would have guessed that table games (ETGs) would become such a big deal—the earliest prototypes seemed little more than a passing novelty at the time. I also did not think sports betting would ever expand outside of Nevada, given decades of professional and college league abhorrence and federal/state government intransigence.
But in retrospect, perhaps the most surprising happenstance in the last two–and-a-half-decades observing and reporting on the industry, at least to me, is how a couple of states have so thoroughly embraced gaming that they now rival Nevada for the sheer amount of wagering products legalized and offered to citizens. Those states are Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Let’s start with Illinois, which was early to the game when it came to the lottery and riverboat casino gaming, and is now home to 10 commercial casinos and an iLottery. Rapid gaming expansion began in 2009, when the state approved video gaming, and allowed video lottery terminals into retail establishments such as bars and restaurants across the state. Fast forward to today, and Illinois is home to roughly 30,694 VLTs at 6,359 venues and generated roughly $1.5 billion in revenue for 2018, a 15 percent increase over the previous year, according to the American Gaming Association’s State of the States 2019 report. Video lottery terminals now generate more revenue than the state’s commercial casinos.
And gaming liberalization is still on the march in Illinois, with the state’s House and Senate recently approving legislation that allows for six new casinos, increases to the number of VLTs that could be housed in one location, historical racing machine gaming at racetracks, and sports wagering at casinos, racetracks and sporting facilities with capacity to seat 17,000 people.
Not to be outdone, Pennsylvania — which did not allow any form of gaming outside of horse racing and the lottery until 2004 — now boasts a combined 12 commercial casinos and racinos, electronic gaming devices (EGDs), iLottery, iGaming and, recently, sports wagering. The combined revenue impact of all these forms of gaming totaled $3.35 billion in 2018, making Pennsylvania the second largest commercial casino revenue state, trailing only Nevada.
And much like Illinois, gaming expansion continues apace in Pennsylvania, where a recently passed gaming expansion bill has cleared the way for up to 10 additional satellite casinos (mini gaming facilities with a maximum of 750 EGDs and 40 table games). Electronic gaming devices were also cleared for expansion into retail facilities such as truck stops. When everything is up and operating, Pennsylvania will be offering citizens more forms of gaming than are currently allowed in Nevada, which is really quite something when you consider how politically conservative that state has become.
Suffice to say Pennsylvania and Illinois are not isolated examples. A handful of other states, such as New York and New Jersey, are also in the process of expanding gaming options. And let’s not forget the dozen or more jurisdictions contemplating the legalization of sports wagering.
From a larger, macro point of view, this continued expansion of gaming throughout the U.S. really shows how accepted the concept has become on most political, economic and even social levels of society; something else the 1990s version of me would have considered an unrealistic pipe dream.