Illinois Slot Machine Hours – Jolene was 24 years old when she first fell under the spell of a slot machine. He got stuck in a $20 bill and $4,000 came out. Not far from counting quarters to pay the rent, it was a turning point, he said.
Before long, Jolene, who asked that we not use her last name, found that she couldn’t pull herself out of the coils.
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“I would go after work and sneak off in the afternoons and play,” he said. “And after a while I realized it was a problem when I wasn’t playing to win anymore, I was playing to play.”
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He described “the zone” in which he played the slots, a form of isolation in which nothing or no one could hold his attention. Why he couldn’t get free was a mystery, he said, but he knew it wasn’t normal.
Jolene said her addiction ended up costing her $300,000 in financial losses and more over the course of her life.
“I realized I have a problem when I wait for the money to arrive in my bank account and sit there to take it out immediately and put it in the slot machines,” he said.
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The Illinois Gaming Act greatly expanded gaming options in the state, expanding gambling beyond casino walls and into bars, grocery stores, and even laundromats.
Illinois currently has 35,748 gaming terminals at 7,290 licensed locations, along with 10 casinos and three racetracks, more than all of Nevada, according to a state official.
Now, Jolene and the estimated 300,000 problem gamblers in Illinois are inundated with more gaming ads and opportunities than ever before.
State officials say there are 17 state-funded gambling addiction providers, but the Illinois Department of Human Services website lists only 14, most of them in the Chicago area. This interactive map pinpoints all of the listed providers’ locations across the state.
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But four of the 14 do not provide gambling addiction services, according to a report by DePaul’s Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence. Of those contacted by phone, four providers said they did not offer services for problem gamblers. State contracts with the four providers, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show they receive more than $350,000 in state aid.
So far, no research has been done on the consequences of gambling expansion. State Sen. Jackie Collins has consistently voted no on expansion and is concerned about escalating the game without assessing the potential problems.
“They should have done a study, assessment or research on how the growth or expansion of gambling affects communities and how it could affect the state,” Collins said.
A needs assessment is underway and expected to be completed in March 2021, according to Kia Coleman, assistant program secretary for the Illinois Department of Human Services.
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“The needs assessment will be very valuable in really determining exactly how to allocate our resources,” Coleman said.
Other states, such as Louisiana, Massachusetts and California, completed needs assessments in 2016 and 2017 before implementing the expansion, Coleman said. This allowed them to understand how their population felt about gambling and where people were staying.
“And that’s helped them really ramp up targeted spending, which is what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Collins says gambling is a version of a “tax on the poor” that disproportionately affects the low-income communities that make up the core of Collins’ constituency.
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“I think it’s unfathomable that we’re preying on the poor and giving them false hope that winning the lottery or even winning the jackpot can somehow alleviate the circumstances they face every day,” he said.
As gambling expands, so does the financing of problem gambling services. According to IDHS’s 2020 budget, the state allocated just over $4.9 million for compulsive gambling treatment and services, up from $800,000.
“The number of people that we think are struggling with this far outnumbers us — the number of people that we serve,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the IDHS is also launching a massive public awareness campaign about the gambling services available to them, as well as targeted advertising to those most in need. The state provides a hotline for problem gamblers at 1-800-522-4700.
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“It’s really a joke to be honest with you. Indeed it is, he said. “I’ve been through some really dark times with gambling and I called that 800 number and it doesn’t do anything.”
A few years into his gambling habit, he started looking for an explanation for what was going on in his head.
“Once I figured out what I was doing, I wanted to figure out why I was doing it. Because it didn’t make sense to me why I would sit there and put all my money in a music box,” he said. “I didn’t want to do it, but I continued.”
After extensive research, he said, he was finally able to learn about the addictive properties of slot machines and other forms of video gambling, which provided a scientific explanation for the disorder that ruled his life. With that understanding, he enrolled in voluntary self-exclusion, a program that bars him from entering the state’s casinos and from collecting winnings.
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“It would deter me from going any further. And it worked,” he said. “That worked until Illinois moved the slot machines outside the casino walls.”
Now he and others like him are forced to find new ways to deal with this new reality. Jolene has been a vocal advocate for expanding government support for problem gamblers, but said she has seen no meaningful progress in the years she has needed it.
Today, he takes this day by day because he knows that he will have to face this for the rest of his life.
“I think about it every day,” he said. “I know that even if I win, I will lose.”
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It was one of many phrases read out by all attendees at the Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Downers Grove. It was Wednesday night when I ventured out into the suburbs to listen to the testimonies of people struggling with gambling addiction.
There were no cameras, no recorders – just my spiral notebook and the words of the people there.
Somehow, about 15-20 people fit into the small room, waiting patiently on folding chairs before they could begin. I took in the scene; there were more men than women, everyone was white. The oldest was over 70 years old, the youngest appeared to be 18 years old.
This means that overcoming gambling addiction required adherence to GA guidelines and patience for the tumultuous road to recovery. But there is great suffering in attachment and patience.
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Three people shared their stories. A man reflected on his first bet at the racetrack when he was 12 years old. A woman has spoken out about her setback despite being on the self-exclusion list, which allows Illinois gamblers to voluntarily donate all winnings from a betting establishment to three state charities. Another man recounted the birth of his daughter, a maxed-out credit card, and suicide attempts.
Each spoke of the heartache of losing their families and themselves. They talked about the pain associated with gambling and the fear of relapse. They talked about the stigma – the fact that gambling is not seen as a “real” addiction.
“We have no clue,” they all said. Their addiction could not be noticed, which is why many people remembered such a long suffering.
The woman noted that even in her darkest days, the state was not there to think about suicide. The outpatient program wasn’t enough for him and only the best insurance would cover it. There were nods in the room.
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All said GA helps. This gives them room to heal, but GA can only do so much when dealing with constant temptation.
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Sign up for our morning newsletter to get all our stories delivered to your inbox every weekday. An 816-page bill introduced and passed by the General Assembly over the weekend, if fully implemented, will transform Illinois into the gambling capital of the Midwest.
The legislation legalizes sports gambling; sanctions six new casinos, including one in Chicago; increases the number of video game slots and the maximum bet; and turns the state’s racetracks into “racinos” by allowing casino operations at three of the state’s existing tracks while allowing two more to open.
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There will be an increase in state-sponsored gambling “positions” – places where you can place a bet in a casino, bar or racino.