Rozner: Expanded gambling finally arrives in Illinois

  • Illinois has finally passed an expanded gambling package, which includes allowing slot machines at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights.

    Illinois has finally passed an expanded gambling package, which includes allowing slot machines at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 6/3/2019 9:14 AM

Seeing as how it's the state motto, the new gambling bill could have just as easily been called, "Smash and Grab."

As in, smash it through the Illinois General Assembly and grab as much as possible for those with the most influence.

 

In Illinois, it's never about what's best for the consumer, not about the free market.

But at least the politicians finally passed sports betting legislation, albeit a year after it was available to them, and you wouldn't be wrong for wondering if it would ever get done as everyone fought for their piece of a considerable pie.

That's the Illinois way.

They needed overtime, extending the session past the Friday deadline and into Saturday night after weeks of arguments. Amendments were rewritten and adjusted, conflicts of ego and interest always at the heart of every Illinois discussion.

There is some good that will come from the bill, the state taking advantage of the revenue and jobs that will arrive with more casinos, sports betting and slots at the race tracks, but the notion that this will save -- or revive -- Illinois horse racing is at best naive.

Many in Springfield took victory laps and strained rotators patting themselves on the back, but Maywood Park and Balmoral Park closed in 2015. Gonna revive them?

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Hawthorne cards are barely recognizable and Arlington Park, despite its brilliant facility, is nothing like it used to be, the quality of racing a victim of Illinois politics.

That horse left the barn long ago, when a pair of bills were shelved that could have saved a billion-dollar industry.

Slots at the tracks would have made Illinois horse racing competitive with states that had vision, but that might have eaten into the profits of casinos.

Isn't that what it's always about, who's got the most sway and the biggest say, the deepest pockets making the decisions?

Illinois politicians never did explain why there could be slot machines at your local pizza place, Chinese restaurant, gas station or faux eating establishment, but you couldn't have them at Arlington, where they've had regulated gambling for 90 years.

But, then, you already know the reason.

As for the sports betting aspect, the bill is better than it was a week ago, taxes and license fees decreased considerably, but not as good as it could have been.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The free market should have determined the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and mobile betting sites, giving consumers the right to shop for lines and choose their prices.

DraftKings and FanDuel should have been embraced for being good at what they do and having everything in place, instead of being penalized and ostracized.

As it stands, there will be three online-only licenses and they won't be sold for 18 months, an absurd prospect. As for who gets to purchase them, well, that will be entertaining.

Some still argue that expanded gambling is dangerous, pretending you can be a little bit pregnant and that you can point to a square mile in your village where there isn't already a slot machine.

The state needs revenue beyond the astronomical taxes that has businesses and residents fleeing in horror, so why not take advantage of the opportunity?

It's a positive that something, in whatever form, got done over the weekend.

Better that wagers should take place here instead of offshore because they will take place, like it or not.

So we'll see how it all works out, if the state gives you a reason to play here instead of offshore, or with the local guy or in neighboring states, and if it gives a much-needed boost to local horse racing.

You have the right, if not the historical reference, to be optimistic.

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