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A casino on Southeast Side likely to profit off addiction and racial segregation

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he'll push state lawmakers this spring to approve a Chicago casino before he leaves office, suggesting the Port District site on the city's Southeast Side. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Surprisingly little has been written or said in opposition to the proposed casino that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. J. B. Pritzker are supporting for the Southeast Side of Chicago.

The reported purpose of the casino, which is to be located somewhere between I-94 and Torrence Avenue near 103rd Street, is to ease pressure on the city’s budget in light of the pension crisis. But this is one more example of the quick-fix expediency that our leaders lean toward and cling to without evidence or logic.

OPINION

As organizations that have fought to keep casinos out of Chicago’s neighborhoods over the years, we are dismayed by this cynical regressive strategy. It looks a lot like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

People who support casinos tout the short-term gains in employment, but that gain is tiny compared to the ways casinos wreak havoc on communities. A 2013 study by the Institute for American Values highlighted the enormous toll casinos take on people’s lives. The study’s findings included the following common-sense conclusions:

  • Slot machines are highly addictive and designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose.
  • Casinos extract wealth from communities and typically weaken nearby businesses and property values.
  • Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.
  • Living near a casino increases one’s chances of becoming a problem gambler.

Much has been written about the toll gambling addiction can take on individuals, including negative health effects, marital turmoil, emotional problems and financial devastation.

Locating the proposed casino in an area of the city that already struggles from disinvestment is especially problematic. Hopes for economic revitalization resulting from casinos are usually overstated, and under-resourced communities deserve better.

This is eerily reminiscent of how the state lottery was sold to communities — as a new revenue stream for public education. We weren’t told, however, that it would simply replace the existing revenue stream for education and  ultimately provide no new money.

Our city already suffers from pervasive, systemic inequality. That inequality manifests itself in racial segregation, income inequality and a lack of equitable access to vital resources such as a good education and health services. There is no doubt that a Southeast Side casino would further tilt the playing field against those who are already struggling.

In fact, it raises the question of whether this is yet another effort to profit off the ill-effects of segregation in our city.

Surely our state and city leaders can be more creative in addressing address our state and city’s budget crisis.

An obvious place to start is to root out the corruption that has crippled our state economy, and rebuild the economy with a graduated income tax and community development strategies that can stem the tide of families fleeing the state. Illinois is the only state in the Union that has lost population four years in a row.

We urge our city and state leadership to stop balancing the budget on the backs of those who are least able to pay.

Judy Levey is executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a Chicago-based social justice organization working on a grassroots level to combat poverty, racism and anti-Semitism.

Brian Malone is executive director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, based on the South Side, which sustains the engagement of low-income and working families in improving the quality of life in the city’s communities.

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