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updated: 7/17/2011 9:28 AM

Expanded state gaming may blunt joy over Rivers Casino

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

This is a big week for the City of Des Plaines and the Northwest suburbs in general.

Tonight, about 1,000 VIPs will attend an exclusive pre-opening party at the new Rivers Casino with top-drawer entertainment that is scheduled to include Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts. Then, at 11 a.m. Monday, the doors to the 147,000-square-foot casino open for business for the first time.

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The $445 million casino, built on about 20 acres off Des Plaines River Road between Touhy and Devon avenues, includes 1,050 gambling positions, 48 table games, several restaurants and lots of room to park. Quite an attraction.

It's expected to provide an economic and perhaps psychological boost for Des Plaines and the suburbs immediately around it, especially Rosemont, which is practically across the street and has the hotels and restaurants that stand to benefit from the tourism draw.

So while the mood may be subdued in Arlington Heights, where the Arlington Park racetrack is threatened by the gaming alternative, and in Elgin and even as far away as Aurora, where older casinos now face one more competitor, the mood around Des Plaines this week is celebratory. The new casino finally is here.

But there is reason for concern that the celebration may be fairly short-lived.

The opening of the sparkling new casino is an appropriate time for us to reflect, as we have in this space previously, on the full-throttle plunge Illinois is apparently about to take into the dark waters of pervasive gaming.

Some critics, including us, have sniped at some of the gambling the state has embraced in the past several decades. But whether that gaming has been good or bad, it's been relatively contained.

Compared to the expansive plans that recently have been approved in Springfield, however, we haven't seen anything yet. If the state follows through on all these plans, gambling won't just be an occasional entertainment alternative. It will be, for practical purposes, on almost every corner.

It will not just be a retreat; it will be a lifestyle.

Is that what we want for the state of Illinois?

Along with that cultural shift will come, without question, an increase in heartbreaking gambling addictions. Along with it, most likely, will be the likelihood of poorly regulated enterprises.

And along with it will depart the golden goose Des Plaines thinks it has in its casino. When and if Chicago gets a casino, how widespread will the attraction be for the nearby Rivers Casino?

As of this writing, the gambling bill that passed both houses of the General Assembly has yet to become law. We believe there is a need for the Arlington Park slots that are part of that bill; but we question the merits of most of the other elements.

The word is that Gov. Pat Quinn shares some of those concerns and that the bill has been held up because of that. We hope that's true. We hope that ultimately Quinn does the right thing.

It's a week for celebrating in Des Plaines. We hope those celebrations are allowed to continue for a good long while.

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