Alton, IL

Study Links Video Gambling to Crime Spike

Story by WBGZ Radio

September marked the five-year anniversary of video gaming legalization in Illinois. A new report claims that the societal costs of gambling may not be worth the tax revenue. 

According to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, Illinois received $1.3 billion in revenue from wagering in fiscal year 2017. Video gaming accounted for more than 20 percent of that. As of July 2017, there are 27,145 video gaming machines operating in Illinois. That's more than any other state, including Nevada.

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Released in August, the study, titled "Can’t Stop the One-Armed Bandits: The E?ects of Access to Gambling on Crime," found that being near at least one video gambling establishment is associated with an average 6.7 percent increase in property crime and a 7.5 percent spike in violent crime in the areas around Chicago. Despite the fact that video gaming isn't allowed in Chicago, there are more than 10,000 machines surrounding the city. That's the equivalent to eight casinos.

"Since the time video gambling was adopted, we estimate that it contributed an additional: 119.5 sexual assaults, 322.7 aggravated batteries, 992.7 robberies, 692.2 burglaries, 1,562.3 larcenies, and 1,123.7 motor vehicle thefts," the study states. "This amounts to a total cost of almost $55.5 million."

Nicolas Bottan, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois and the study's author, said there is rarely ever conclusive proof that something causes crime, but there is a strong correlation in regard to the proliferation of these machines.

"After these machines started popping up, that's when you see the trends in crime starting to diverge in these areas," he said. "It's mostly driven by problems related to problem gambling and addiction." 

Mike Gelatka, past president of the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, said the study was an overreach because video gambling is unlikely to cause increases in crimes like murders and sexual assaults.

"They were taking heavier crimes and pushing them into the statistics they were using relating to video gaming," he said. 

Gelatka said he's spent years communicating with police chiefs in Illinois and has never heard of video gaming resulting in an uptick in violence. 

The Illinois municipality with the most gaming machines is Springfield, with 600. 

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