Illinois gambling addiction’s only cure is more gambling

'No downsides' to legalized gambling for small businesses in Illinois

Kathy Winkelman, co-manager of Friday's South in Belleville, says there are 'no downsides' to legalized gambling for small businesses in Illinois.
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Kathy Winkelman, co-manager of Friday's South in Belleville, says there are 'no downsides' to legalized gambling for small businesses in Illinois.

In Illinois, state politicians practice moral relativism. A thing is good or bad depending on how much tax revenue it generates, so any moral objections to gambling are gone and the only questions are how big a bet should we place to get more, more, more.

They have been rewarded for their belief that they can win more with more gambling. Adjusted for inflation, Illinois’ coffers have gone from the equivalent of $533 million in taxes when only the lottery and horse racing existed in 1975 to $1.3 billion for the past fiscal year with lottery and horses and riverboats and video gambling.

More, more, more means more, more, more.

So in the face of all this jackpot jocularity, excuse us for pointing out the losers as Illinois gambling continues to swell.

Old gambling forms lose. Horse racing in 1975 generated $285 million in today’s dollars but last year just $6 million. Two horse tracks closed in 2015 and Fairmount Park is again begging for video gaming to survive and threatening to cut live racing dates down from 41 if economics warrant it. Casino revenues have dropped in each of the five years since video gaming began, with video gaming revenues of $296 million pulling ahead of $270 million from casinos last year.

Students are losing. Lottery revenues are flat. Casino revenues dropped to their lowest level since 1999. Those revenues went into education. Video revenues are on the rise, and those dollars go to capital projects. Students are losing to construction workers, with the trend unlikely to reverse.

Businesses that actually create wealth lose. Economists have long held that gambling merely circulates money within the economy. It does not create money, because there is not a product created. The boats were touted as economic engines when they started, but look around Alton and East St. Louis and try to find a business supported by the glow of gamblers to those boats.

East St. Louis loses. The riverboats were added under a bill entitled the Distressed Cities Act, intended to saving aging, depressed river towns with exclusive gambling franchises. In 2006 the city received $10.8 million from the Casino Queen. That amount dropped to $6.6 million last year.

Losers lose. Nationwide, 15 million adults are at risk of becoming problem gamblers, 3 million are problem gamblers and 2.5 million are gambling addicts. Add their family members to those total when college funds disappear and rent money evaporates.

Illinois loses, again. We lose jobs and population to our neighbors, so why not gamblers. Illinois has a larger population base, but Illinois casinos trail Indiana, Missouri and Iowa in adjusted gross revenue.

So how is Illinois responding to dips in its gambling sectors? As it always has. The fix to poor gambling performance is more gambling. State lawmakers continue to propose more casinos, including a Chicago casino with 10,000 gaming positions compared to the 1,200 seat limit on the existing boats. They aim to fix Fairmount Park with 150 video gaming machines. There is no limit on the number of Illinois video gambling machines, which are expected to hit 28,000 this year.

If only the City of Chicago with one-third of the state’s population allowed video gaming. More is more in Illinois.