A connected lobbyist in Springfield is pushing a new proposal to build a casino near the Old State Capitol where Abe Lincoln once served and Barack Obama announced his campaign for president.
That reminded me that once upon a time there was a proposal to build a bunch of new casinos in Illinois. There would be one in Chicago, another near Waukegan, one in the south suburbs of Cook County, another in southern Illinois, a fifth in Rockford, and sixth near Danville.
The idea of creating new casinos has been discussed by legislators for years and at one time appeared to have support among Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature. Pat Quinn, the governor at the time, killed the bill because he said it wouldn’t have kept the criminal element out of the casino industry.
Across the state line in Indiana casino operators and elected officials have been celebrating because that state has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from its casinos, largely from money wagered by Illinois residents.
Witnesses at gambling hearings have estimated that at least 70 percent of the patrons gambling in northwest Indiana come from Illinois.
This state is $111 billion in debt. It has $14 billion in unpaid bills sitting on the comptroller’s desk.
I don’t know how much money six casinos would raise, but at one time there were estimates that a Chicago casino alone could generate bids in excess of $1 billion from developers just for the rights to build the thing.
Chicago has billions of dollars of its own in pension debt, has closed mental health clinics and schools, and needs money to hire thousands of new police officers.
It could use the millions of dollars in annual tax revenue a casino would likely generate. It could also use the thousands of jobs, which tend to pay far more than the minimum wage.
Under previous proposals, the south suburban casino would be designed to split its revenue among communities such as Robbins, Ford Heights, Chicago Heights, Sauk Village, Posen, Lansing and Lynwood, some of the poorest areas in Cook County suffering under the highest property tax rates.
There are people who say gambling is evil and Illinois should not encourage such behavior.
I think I have seen some of these people at Dotty’s, Anna’s and Lucky Jack’s. These are the names of gambling cafes, storefronts in strip malls that under existing law are allowed up to five video gaming machines. There are so many of these place operating in Illinois that, while opponents have opposed the plan to build six casinos, the equivalent of more than 20 new casinos have gone up throughout the state.
I’m still baffled by the way House Speaker Michael Madigan managed to pass legislation that allowed video gambling into restaurants, bars, American Legion halls, banquet rooms and neighborhood shopping centers, amid all the moral indignation over casinos.
There are many people who contend these casino cafes have inundated the gaming market and therefore casino expansion would not work. I say, let the free market decide.
When it comes to squandering their money on frivolous pursuits, human beings cannot be limited. They will bet on college sports, professional sports and, when they run out of real sports, will spend billions of dollars on fantasy leagues.
These are the same people who will scream if you tax them to pay for health care, public education or housing for the poor, but can’t wait to buy a 13 million-to-one shot on the lottery.
I say create new gambling venues to finance government. You can’t lose by betting on the stupidity of the average American.