Editorial | State bets big on more gambling

Editorial | State bets big on more gambling

Illinois needs many things. Are more opportunities to gamble one of them?

The deed — a massive expansion of legalized gambling in Illinois — is done. Its ramifications remain to be determined.

The whole thing is going to take many months to shake out, so people are well-advised not to get too excited too soon, particularly over provisions in the legislation to locate a casino in Danville.

Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. has been prudently restrained in his reaction to the news that his community was selected as one of a number of new locales for a casino. He said he's looking forward to any jobs and tax revenues it brings to the city.

But anyone who's familiar with the history of legalized gambling in Illinois knows that promises made about its impact have been dramatically exaggerated, that it's no panacea and certainly not an economic development engine for the regions of the state in which casinos are located.

One giant myth that was exposed long ago is that casinos draw customers from other locations, including other states. That may have been true to some extent years ago when casinos in Illinois were relatively new enterprises. But the shine has definitely worn off.

That's why most casino customers come from the general area where the casino is located. In that sense, money lost at casinos is usually money that would have been better spent — or saved — at other local businesses. Casinos may prosper, but at the expense of local businesses.

The gambling bill that the Legislature passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker will sign represents an explosion of new gambling options.

Not only will there be new casinos (Danville, Waukegan, Rockford, Williamson County and the suburbs), but the new and existing casinos will be able to increase their gambling positions from 1,200 to 2,000.

The biggest casino, of course, will be located in Chicago and will play host to up to 4,000 slot machines or seats at a gambling table. This venue will almost certainly be a money machine, owing to the city's population and the many thousands of people who visit each year.

Illinois racetracks, which are barely surviving, will be permitted to install slot machines. So will Chicago's airports.

Then there is the sports gambling that now will be permitted to go along with the state lottery and video gambling parlors found on virtually every other street corner.

Legislators, of course, can't resist what they consider to be an easy way to generate more revenue. But how much will this latest leviathan generate? Probably not as much as hoped because the gambling business that already exists in Illinois is cannibalizing itself.

The vast expansion of video gambling parlors has been particularly hard on the casinos' bottom line.

The big question this legislation will help answer is just how many people there are in this state or coming through its airports who are itching to lose their money.

Legislators seem to be of the opinion that there is a vast untapped market. They're probably right as far as Chicago goes. That's why it will be especially interesting to see just who among the power and political elite in Illinois ends up with an ownership share in this gold mine.

As for the rest of the rest, the prospects are not nearly as bright as proponents of gambling expansion predict. It hasn't been in the past, and there's no reason beyond Chicago why it will be in the future.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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