Facing the proposition of adding video gambling terminals at Hoffman Estates' Bridges of Poplar Creek County Club, the question from a club member struck at the core of the matter.
"We serve alcohol at a golf course and we're worried about five gambling terminals?" he asked.
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Well, yes. Yes, we are worried about those five terminals. And the very nature of the question -- justifying one social vice because another has been accommodated -- strikes at the very heart of our concern. We lamented a similar proposal last fall as the Elk Grove Village park board prepared to select vendors for gaming machines at its taxpayer-supported course. Now, though, there is time to avoid a misguided money grab.
Although, as Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson reported Wednesday, the Recreation Committee of the Hoffman Estates Parks and Recreation Commission voted 6-1 to recommend a "one-year test" of the video gambling machines, the full park board won't make its final decision until March 25.
Hopefully, that body will understand what only Scott Koltz -- alone among seven Recreation Committee votes -- understood, that the activity of video gambling conflicts with the park district's mission to promote health and fitness. Moreover, it conflicts with the obligation of any public body to protect the health and well-being of its citizens.
Considering the trajectory of gambling in Illinois, one might reasonably ask another core question: Where does it end?
It began with a handful of horse racetracks under the pretext that this long-standing traditional pastime could be accommodated as long as the activity did not expand. Then we added a state-supported lottery, under the pretext that the wager was only a dollar and as long as the activity did not expand, this one money-producing vice could be accommodated. Then, we added riverboat casinos, under the pretext that hard-hit Illinois towns needed an additional revenue source, and as long as we kept the activity on riverboats operating a limited schedule, it could be accommodated. Now, we've determined that riverboats and community hardships can be dispensed with, and as long as we manage the licensing, the social problems attendant to gambling can be accommodated.
Given this history, are we really to believe that this juggernaut will stop with five terminals posted in a public country club's bar?
Are we really to accept that by calling its proposal "a test," the Hoffman Estates park board will carefully re-examine its reasoning a year from now? What is being tested? The amount of money it takes to justify a public nuisance?
Whatever arguments one may make about the role of government in regulating social behaviors, it cannot legitimately be argued that actually inviting a known social ill is within the purview of a government body, much less a park board supported by public funds to promote the overall health of a community.
The Elk Grove Village park board already has let dollar signs turn its head from its core mission. The Hoffman Estates park board still has time to avoid a similar action. Our even greater fear is that, seeing their neighbors' acceptance of a lower standard, other communities will follow suit, one by one.
And what then will we be stooping to accommodate?