Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a law giving former convicts better employment prospects by allowing the state’s casinos to hire them for non-gaming roles. The new law received support from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) and Unite Here Local 1 hospitality union. Local 1 represents about 15,000 hospitality workers across Illinois and northern Indiana.
In a press release, Pritzker said:
Here in the Land of Lincoln, we believe that people deserve second chances—and that includes the formerly incarcerated and those who have been convicted of a felony.
The governor added that the new law would address the needs of former convicts. He said that the state’s goal is to support and remove barriers for all Illinoisans so they can thrive.
The law removes the previous automatic disqualification for people with felony convictions. It’s important to note that those with a felony on their criminal record still cannot work in gaming positions. For instance, casinos cannot employ them as slot attendants or table game dealers. However, they can apply for an occupational license from IGB and work in areas like:
- Casino restaurants
While former convicts will be eligible for hire, the IGB will review each application before giving permission. The regulator will consider factors such as:
- Type of conviction
- Severity and number of charges
- Time since conviction
- Age when convicted
- Any rehabilitation efforts
The new law means that more than 30,000 Illinoisans could be eligible to work in one of the state’s 13 casinos. Illinois is also about to welcome Bally’s temporary casino in downtown Chicago, which has delayed its opening to September. The casino is still looking to fill some of the 700 positions.
New Law Beneficial to State and Former Convicts Alike
Many states, including Illinois, are currently suffering from worker shortages. Finding ways to bolster the workforce is increasingly important. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are only 75 available workers for every 100 jobs in Illinois, leaving over 400,000 unfulfilled jobs in the state.
The Chamber of Commerce adds that there are 1.9 million fewer workers in the US compared to Feb 2020. It also estimates that the unemployment rate in the leisure and hospitality industry is 5.8%, compared to a national average of 3.5%.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that number could be higher. The Journal reports that there are two million unfulfilled jobs in the broader hospitality and leisure industry.
And according to Rush Street Gaming CEO Tim Drehkoff, there are 400,000 fewer workers in casinos than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Rush Street operates the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
But the industry is not the only one that could benefit from the new law. People with felony convictions will have more employment opportunities. Employment is one of the biggest challenges for those that have been incarcerated, with 75% still being unemployed a year after release.
More job opportunities could lead to better integration of former convicts back into society. In a Bonus article about a similar bill in New York, Chris Gerlacher wrote about how job prospects are key to rehabilitation for former convicts.
Illinois Succeeds Where New York Failed
With the new law, Illinois believes that giving former convicts more employment opportunities will be beneficial. While some states have made similar efforts, a bill resembling the one in Illinois did not succeed in New York.
The bill’s sponsor was Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who has been the leading voice in the effort to legalize online casinos in New York.
In Dec 2022, S1443B passed through the state Senate, but Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed it. Her stated reason was that casino jobs are sensitive and involve handling large amounts of money. However, the New York bill would have disqualified individuals with certain types of convictions on their records, such as:
- Public integrity crimes (election law violations, government bribery)
Furthermore, under S1443B, the New York State Gaming Commission would have reviewed each application and could deny employee licenses on a case-by-case basis.
The bill would have made 36,000 New Yorkers newly eligible for employment in the industry.
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