Illinois Gaming Board Pushes Lawmakers to Change Chicago Casino Tax Scheme

Posted on: September 17, 2019, 08:20h. 

Last updated on: September 17, 2019, 12:53h.

The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) is urging politicians in the Prairie State to reconsider parts of the gaming expansion bill passed there earlier this year so that a Chicago casino can become a reality.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker may need to reconsider the tax rate on a Chicago casino to make that project come to fruition. (Image: Forbes)

On June 28, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill) signed the Illinois Gambling Act into law, allowing for the addition of up to six gaming venues in the state, including one in the Windy City.  He did that despite concerns that the state’s gaming market is near a saturation point, and that new casinos could potentially poach customers and revenue from established properties.

On Monday, the five-member IGB passed a resolution pushing for lower tax burdens for the proposed Chicago project. But the board did not make specific recommendations as to how such a plan could be put into motion.

The board recommends that the General Assembly consider making modifications to the terms of the Chicago casino license authorized under the Illinois Gambling Act,” said IGB.

IGB’s Monday vote comes in response to results of the feasibility study the board released last month, which was conducted by Union Gaming Analytics (UGA). When factoring in the “privilege tax” rate of 33.3 percent, the effective tax burden on a Chicago casino would swell to 72 percent, making it almost impossible for the venue to be profitable.

“To the extent a casino operator could pare down expenses and realize modest revenue and profits from non-gaming amenities … total enterprise profit margin would, in a best-case scenario, likely equate to a few pennies on the dollar,” according to the UGA report.

UGA noted that under a 72 percent tax rate scenario, an operator opting to build the Windy City casino would need to do so without taking on debt, a rarity in the gaming business. That’s because creditors would see that the slim profit margins would make it difficult for the borrower to adequately service liabilities related to the project.

Bad Deal

The proposed tax rate on a Chicago casino is well above current levies on existing Illinois gaming properties. The 10 riverboat casinos in the state are subject to taxes of 15 percent to 50 percent of adjusted gross gaming receipts, reports Capital News Illinois.

Beyond the hefty tax burden, potential bidders for a gaming project in the third-largest US city may stay out of the bidding because the UGA study noted the sites the city is pitching, all of which are in the southside or westside of Chicago, are unlikely to attract tourists.

To date, Las Vegas Sands and Penn National Gaming, the latter the largest operator in Illinois, have said they will not pursue a Chicago gaming license.

Other Cities

Casino projects in other smaller Illinois cities, such as Danville and Rockford, are seen moving forward because venues in those locations will not be subject to the onerous 72 percent Chicago tax clip.

That tax scheme puts the city between a rock and a hard place. In her recent state of the city address, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago faces a $838 million budget shortfall for the 2020 fiscal year, the largest in the city’s recent history.

While noting budget reductions or efforts to raise revenue are in play to shore up the shortfall, Lightfoot urged policymakers at the state level to make the Chicago casino project a reality.