If gambling is the answer, what's the question?
As Illinois Capitol-watchers know, the reason for our current budget
crisis is the refusal of the House of Representatives, specifically
the refusal of House Speaker Michael Madigan, to support a massive
increase in legalized gambling.
Adding more riverboat casinos, doubling the "gaming positions"
(mostly slot machines) on existing boats, adding "electronic gaming"
(mostly slot machines) at horse racetracks and giving Illinois more
opportunities to lose their money - that's the answer to all the
problems facing our state, according to gambling expansion advocates.
HB 2651, which narrowly passed the Senate on May 31 but stalled in
the House on a procedural motion, is said to be the key to building
new schools, roads and bridges, to putting 500,000 state workers (or
700,000, if you believe the governor) in high-paying jobs, to jump-
starting the economy and paving our streets with gold.
But a report released last week by the Rockefeller Institute of
Government suggests all this gold is not at the end of the gambling
rainbow in Illinois. If gambling were the answer, Illinois already
should be flush with public funds and living on Easy Street.
As it turns out, of the $23.7 billion in gambling revenue raked in by
the fifty states last year, Illinois' share was second only to New
York's. Our total, derived from losses Illinois citizens experience,
amounted to about $450 for each family of four, or about 170% of the
national average. We gamble away a lot of money, to the state's
Why, then, is the state broke? Why is it last in the nation in
support of schools? Why is the FY 2009 budget more than $2 billion
out of balance? Can we double down on gambling and turn this fiscal
HB 2651 will still be on the agenda when the legislators return to
the Capitol after the November 4 elections. The pressure on them to
pass that bill will be intense. All the talk will be about the
wonderful benefits gambling money can buy. There will be little, if
any, discussion of the doubtful fiscal wisdom of this approach to
public finance, and none at all about the documented social ills that
research has found are inevitable consequences of massive, state-
In future updates between now and November, we will raise those
subjects, document the research, and give everyone who cares about
the quality of life in Illinois a chance to decide for themselves if
expanded gambling is policy we should support.
- Jim Broadway, Publisher, SSNS