On Thursday, the Elk Grove park board is scheduled to choose a vendor for video gambling machines, making preparations to add five units at its golf course as soon as the Illinois Gaming Board approves its application for a license.
Perhaps there is no way to halt the advance of the video gambling juggernaut, but as it creeps into publicly owned facilities, we can't help but at least register our complaint. Once derided as the "crack cocaine of gambling," video gambling has steadily worked its way into something more than grudging acceptance, so much so that now even public entities can't resist its deficit-fighting allure.
But make no mistake, there is something inherently wrong with public agencies joining in the business of tempting dollars away from citizens with games of chance.
Yes, this includes that now-virtually sacred fixture of school funding known as the state-sponsored Illinois Lottery. But the expansion of the concept from a relatively benign buck-a-week invitation to a near-constant enticement for people to keep feeding coins into a machine specifically designed to gulp them down all but endlessly is a step at least to mourn.
Oh, there are mitigating circumstances with the proposal in Elk Grove Village. The five machines will be sequestered in their own location off to the side of the bar at the Fox Run Golf Links, and their hours of operation will be limited at least to the hours when alcohol can be served (a restriction not without a little irony, given the tendency for alcohol both to enlarge one's sense of unjustified confidence and to weaken one's self-control).
And of course, there is the money.
Already, the competition for it has prompted numerous communities to reverse their previous principled efforts to forbid video gambling within their borders. Elk Grove Village's public golf course -- one of at least three public venues in Illinois seeking video gambling licenses, by the way -- expects the machines at its Fox Den bar to add $50,000 to $75,000 a year to park district coffers, which commissioners vow to reserve purely for golf course expenses.
But as we have seen so often over the years, gambling vows are, like addicts' promises, fragile and situation-dependent. Lottery money was intended to be only additional revenue for schools. Casinos were installed as solely riverboat entertainment and even then only in hard-luck towns. Now, look.
We trust that Elk Grove Park District overseers are sincere in their promises to manage the games responsibly, recognizing, as Executive Director Mike Brotman observed, that other suburban park districts "are waiting to see how we do this." But that provides only small comfort, emphasizing as it does that video gambling's unstoppable invasion is headed for more government bodies. We are left to shudder and wonder when every town will accept as a given its infusion of video gambling -- er, gaming -- income.