This expansion is bad for Illinois

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/4/2011 7:00 PM

It's up to you now, Gov. Quinn. With the stroke of a pen, you have the opportunity to determine whether Illinois will control the crass and dangerous influences of gambling or let them define the personality of the state.

You are right, governor, that the latter is not what the people of Illinois want.


We can tolerate, even enjoy, a restricted gambling industry that is carefully managed to meet limited, specific objectives. We've reluctantly acknowledged, for example, the need for slots to save horse racing at Arlington Park, and we can understand the tourism appeal of a Chicago casino.

But a proposal that more than triples the number of slot machines now allowed in the state? Five new land-based casinos sprinkled throughout the region? No provision for the dramatically increased pressures on an already strained regulation system, plus revisions that could politicize the Illinois Gaming Board? All in addition to a move already under way to put video poker -- that famous "crack cocaine," remember? -- in truck stops, bars and VFW halls across the state?

This we must not allow.

Is our hunger for cash so desperate that we will accept any proposal that hints at satisfying it? Are we so profligate that we would undertake even the most radical reshaping of our cultural personality rather than confront the prospect of restraining spending?

Surely not.

Remember, this is not a temporary salve for our dire financial ailments. This is a permanent alteration of the sociological face of the state. Once this massive expansion is uncapped, its clangy neon will not return quietly into the jar out of which it exploded. It will define Illinois. It will sully the reputation of a state whose reputation certainly needs no more sullying.

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Remember, too, the weakness of the premise on which such a radical expansion of gambling is based -- the notion that gambling and profits are inextricably linked.

Even in today's restricted market, Illinois casino revenues have been declining for years -- with the nearly 4 percent drop between 2009 and 2010 continuing into this year, according to figures at the Illinois Gaming Board website.

If such declines are taking place in a limited market, what is going on to suggest that expanding the market will produce more revenues?

Indeed the logical conclusion is that the revenues of existing casinos will decline amid a rush of operations all striving to exploit the same finite source of business.

As destination locations already, Arlington Park and even the city of Chicago may attract specialized clienteles distinct from that supporting the state's existing casinos. But with casinos ensconced in small towns around the state, airports and -- considering the increasingly lax monitoring and approval provisions of the new law -- who knows where else, the gambling market is sure to become so saturated that current estimates of revenue to the state will be short-lived if they ever materialize at all.


And where will we find ourselves then?

In a state swelling with all the problems and blemishes of gambling, but still struggling to find the money to pay day-to-day bills, not to mention support the legitimate social needs of our population.

Don't let it happen, Gov. Quinn.

When this bill reaches your desk, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate the moral and practical leadership you have advocated since your earliest days as a government watchdog.

Seize it.