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posted: 5/25/2012 3:04 PM

Editorial: Put the skids on massive gambling expansion

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Illinois faces budget problems the likes of which we've never seen. We have the worst pension funding gap in the nation, a multibillion-dollar backlog of unpaid bills and Medicaid expenses that are skyrocketing. And what are our legislators voting on and strategizing about? Major gambling expansion.

It's as if they think one big, shiny extinguisher will put out the four-alarm fire burning all around them.

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To be fair, legislators continue to work toward solutions on the Medicaid, budget and pension problems, but time is running short.

And this is not the time or the place for major gambling expansion. It wasn't last year. It won't be next year. We don't need massive gambling expansion, period.

Where legislators get the notion that Illinois citizens are calling for casinos in every community is beyond us.

While we have historically, and still do, support adding slots at racetracks to save horse racing at Arlington Park and to keep that long-established industry alive, the bill a House majority approved last week goes much, much too far.

In addition to 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, the bill approved by the House would add five new casinos -- in Park City in Lake County, Chicago, downstate Danville, Rockford and the South suburbs.

The Chicago casino alone would add 4,000 more gambling positions to a state that already has 10 casinos operating. It also will add more gambling positions at the now-operating casinos.

Pro-gambling legislators are strategizing about overriding an expected veto from Gov. Pat Quinn, and with two House members voting present and 69 members voting yes, it would appear an override is a very real possibility.

We implore legislators to stop these efforts now. Vote your conscience. Illinois does not need that much gambling. We seriously doubt it will bring that many long-term jobs or the $300 million to $1 billion that state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, claims.

Consider the facts: Receipts from both Joliet and Aurora casinos are down this year. Revenue at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin has dropped more than 21 percent since last year. Yes, revenue overall is up since Rivers Casino opened in Des Plaines, but, legislators, your very own bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability concluded in a report this month that the Rivers Casino is creating a "cannibalization effect" that clearly is hurting other casinos.

The market is nearing saturation now. Adding thousands more gambling positions at five more casinos while communities continue to assess whether they can manage video gambling in all their bars and restaurants is plainly wrong.

The governor should veto this plan if it gets to him, and that veto must not be overridden.

This massive expansion will not bring Illinois a jackpot. On that, we will bet.

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