There will soon be a lot more places in Illinois for people to place their bets.
The owners of Fairmount Park, a racetrack near St. Louis, recently announced that they are adding slot machines, casino table games and sports betting as part of plans for what could be an eventual $50 million expansion.
One of three racetracks in Illinois, Fairmount is transitioning into a “racino,” thanks to a massive expansion of gambling approved by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly.
Fairmount President Brian Zander told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the move is “really going to save the place.”
Zander is not the only one who’s betting that more gambling options will create a bright future — both for the state’s horse racing industry and the state itself.
Pritzker and legislators are positively drooling over what they expect to be an explosion of gambling revenues they expect will, at least in part, reverse Illinois’ slide into effective bankruptcy.
As the Illinois Gaming Commission lays the groundwork for the extensive administrative oversight that is required, this is what is in store for the people of Illinois.
There are 10 existing casinos in Illinois. The new legislation provides for six more to be located in Chicago, Waukegan, Rockford, Danville, Williamson County and an unchosen municipality in south suburban Cook County.
The big enchilada, of course, is the proposed casino in Chicago, a massive 4,000-position facility that will almost certainly be a huge moneymaker.
That means, of course, that there will be considerable maneuvering by a variety of power players and their political patrons for the right to be the recipient of the license to operate. Given the state’s tawdry politics, it’s fair to predict that the entire process will be steeped in sleazy politics and outright corruption.
Not only is the state going to become home to six new casinos, assuming that there are entities vying to do business in the other five designated areas, all 16 will be bigger than the existing venues. They can double their capacity from 1,000 slots to 2,000.
Just do the math — 10 existing casinos have 1,000 positions each, while 16 will have roughly 2,000 each. That’s tripling of casino capacity.
Of course, the racetracks won’t really be racetracks anymore. Horse racing just isn’t the attraction — or the profitable business — that it used to be.
They’ll also be, in effect, casinos, adding up to 1,200 table games and slot machines.
As if Illinois doesn’t already have enough video gambling — 32,000-plus machines statewide — even more will be coming.
Finally, the gaming commission will oversee the establishment of a new form of gambling — sports wagering. It would be no surprise if that activity, too, proves to be popular.
The question, of course, is how much is enough?
Here’s another more serious one. Just how many, if any, opportunities should the state give for people to gamble away the rent money?
The first is difficult to answer.
The state lottery, horse racing and casinos have seen their revenues drop as video gambling machines — introduced just a few years ago — grow in popularity. Indeed, gambling in the form of video gambling is cannibalizing gambling in the form of casinos, the lottery and horse racing.
Sure, there will be more gambling because there will be more venues offering different ways for people to lose their money.
As for the second question, the answer clearly is that the state is interested in providing as many opportunities to gamble as it thinks will generate even an additional dollar in revenue.
Desperate legislators have turned a blind eye to the social problems caused by legalized gambling and declared that it’s every man for himself — sink or swim.
They did the same thing when they decided that decriminalizing marijuana was insufficient because there’s revenue to be gained by legalizing it, regardless of the anticipated social problems.
The only real issue — in the eyes of the responsible officials — is how much money government will gain in additional revenue. It’s a bet on the state’s future that, resting on the concept of survival of the fittest, is far from a sure thing.