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How Illinois bet on video gambling and lost

Here’s what happened when the state legalized machines known as “the crack cocaine of gambling.”

Ranjani Chakraborty is a lead video producer on the Vox video team and the creator behind Vox’s history series, Missing Chapter.

Nearly a decade ago, Illinois lawmakers legalized video gambling. They hoped the machines, which offered electronic versions of slots and poker, would generate billions of dollars in revenue for the cash-strapped state. So they passed a bill quickly, with little debate, to dramatically expand the industry.

Today, more than 30,000 video slot and poker machines operate outside casinos there, more than any other state in the country. Illinois now has more locations to legally place a bet than Nevada.

But the machines, which have spread into bars, restaurants, and truck stops across the state, have come at a high price. A ProPublica Illinois investigation found that, far from pulling Illinois out of its financial tailspin, the legalization of video gambling actually accelerated it. The state has struggled to regulate the new industry or deal with the social costs of machines that can be highly addictive.

And while people in Illinois have gambled a lot more, most of the additional money has ended up in the hands of a small group of companies that own and operate video gambling machines.

After a May Supreme Court decision allowed for the spread of legalized sports betting across the US, more states are considering gambling expansions to stabilize their finances. Watch the video above to find out what we can learn from Illinois’s rush to legalize video gambling.

This story is the latest installment of Vox’s collaboration with ProPublica. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.

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