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Economy, smoking ban snuff casino profits
Elgin's Grand Victoria sees biggest drop locally
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino saw revenue fall more than 27 percent last month compared with October 2007.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/12/2008 4:14 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - A sinking economy and state smoking ban have combined to torpedo Illinois casinos, whose take from gamblers plummeted more than 25 percent last month compared to October 2007.

The nine casinos reported revenues of $122 million last month, down from nearly $164 million the previous October. The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin posted the largest October drop at 27.42 percent of the four suburban casino sites.

The Empress Casino in Joliet was down 25.01 percent from last October, Harrah's Joliet was down 27.27 percent and Hollywood Casino in Aurora was down 22.36 percent.

The single biggest drop from last October was reported by the Harrah's Metropolis at the state's southern tip, where revenues were down 30.76 percent. Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria recorded the best performance, down 12.43 percent compared to last October.

The industry has blamed continued declines on a state smoking ban that took effect this year. At the same time, the national economy continues its downward spiral, leaving people with less discretionary income to spend gambling. Illinois riverboats aren't alone in the downturn; Las Vegas resorts garnered headlines earlier this year with a round of layoffs.

"The economy is having something to do with it but I still think the major factor (in Illinois) is the smoking ban," said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, which represents the state's riverboat casinos.

He notes that revenue at the Indiana casinos, where smoking is allowed, is also down, but not nearly as much as Illinois.

"It's got to be the smoking ban," said Swoik, who's been pushing to exempt the casinos from the ban.

But state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who pushed the smoking ban, isn't swayed.

"Have them look at the national figures, in every other state, of the decline of gaming. You can smoke in all of those states and they're having a decline. So the economy changes, you will never prove to me that the smoking ban is the effect for the decline of revenue at the riverboats," Link said.

Regardless, the gambling downturn worsens an already bleak economic picture here. State sales and income tax dollars are down, putting increased pressure on a teetering state budget.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut jobs and social service spending and plans to shutter two dozen state parks and historic sites to balance spending. Lawmakers tried to undo those cuts by using money from special state bank accounts to restore funding.

But Blagojevich has not acted on that move, saying he won't until he's sure the state-spending plan can remain balanced.