Senator Raoul’s support for gambling is bad for Illinois

To the Editor:?

Sen. Kwame Raoul has been a reliable supporter of the gambling industry, voting yes on every pro-gambling bill that has come before him. Since he came to office, Sen. Raoul has voted in favor of the following:

* reduce casino taxes
* allow riverboat casinos to move up to 5 miles off the Mississippi River
* allow internet betting on horses
* privatize the lottery
* create new lottery tickets for causes other than education
* legalize video gambling (the most addictive form of gambling)
* legalize internet lottery gambling
* expand video gambling
* introduce “remote caller bingo” and eliminate limits on cost of bingo play and size of prizes

Should we be satisfied with Sen. Raoul’s votes? Is he acting in the best interest of Illinois citizens? This is important, because a pending bill in the Senate would give a 4,000-seat casino license to Chicago.

Approximately 5 percent of those who gamble are “problem” or pathological gamblers, meaning that they gamble more than they can afford; about 2 percent become addicted to it and will do anything they can to gamble, including stealing from friends, family, and employers.

The gambling industry cultivates addiction and feeds off it. Casinos send enticements and special deals to problem gamblers to lure them in. Slots and video gaming machines are engineered to trick the brain into producing a reward response – such as by frequently showing “near misses” – even as the player is losing. ATMs are in the casinos, and when that well runs dry the casino offers loans. As much as 60% of all gambling revenues come from problem gamblers.

So what could be the justification for allowing such a predatory and damaging industry to operate in Illinois?

The usual excuse is money: gambling seems to offer a politically painless way to generate needed revenues. But if you look closely, this argument turns out to be a shell game.

According to a 2015 report from the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the state collected $1.18 billion from gambling sources in FY 2015. But gambling also creates some non-trivial costs to the state that other industries do not. Those include

* burdens on police to combat gambling related crime
* court costs associated with embezzlement and other gambling-related crime
* court costs associated with divorces
* child welfare costs
* bankruptcies
* the costs of regulating the industry and others.

These costs add up: Earl Grinols, an economist at U of I., calculated that gambling generates costs of about $3 per $1 of revenue generated. That means that local governments and the state may be spending $3.54 billion to deal with the fallout from legal gambling.

So if we weigh $1.18 billion in revenues against $3.54 billion in costs, we see that gambling is actually a $2.36 billion burden on Illinois.
But it’s even worse than that.

Consider where gambling money comes from. If gambling were not available, a person who would otherwise choose to gamble $50 would likely spend that $50 somewhere else, such as shopping or eating out. Like gambling, either of those activities would generate some tax revenue for the state, though at a lower rate. But unlike gambling, many of those alternative activities create income for other Illinois citizens who pay income tax on it, and who then spend some portion of what is left, generating more tax revenues and supporting Illinoi businesses and their employees.

In contrast, what happens to $50 spent playing slots, or video poker? How much of that continues circulating in the Illinois economy, generating income for people and tax revenue for the state?

When casinos came to Atlantic City, about half of local restaurants closed down within a year.

And there are other ways in which problem gambling drags on the economy. An employee who is mentally preoccupied with a desire to gamble, or who is worried about financial pressures caused by gambling losses, or who is in the midst of a divorce brought on by gambling, will not be maximally productive. A business hit by an embezzling employee has less money to invest, or may be forced to close. And gambling is, economically speaking, a waste of time: the gambler is being “entertained” at the expense of other, possibly more-productive activities. These drags on the economy further reduce the non-gambling revenue collected by the state.

So when Sen. Raoul votes “yes” on a bill to expand gambling in Illinois, he is not voting in our best interests. Measured solely in cold financial terms, legal gambling is a net loss for the state.

A final argument might focus on Illinois residents who cross the borders to gamble in neighboring states. Shouldn’t we try to get some of that revenue?

We should not. Yes, people will sometimes drive to Indiana, or fly to Las Vegas, but convenience matters. Creating local opportunities for gambling greatly increases the number of citizens who gamble, and who become addicted to it, and greatly increases the negative impact on our economy. And a casino in Chicago would suck the life out of our vibrant Chicago entertainment scene, closing restaurants, music clubs, and theaters.

There is, therefore, no excuse for allowing this industry to hurt Illinois citizens. Let us call Sen. Raoul. He needs to reject the claims of new revenue as the lies they are. He needs to oppose bringing a casino to Chicago and oppose any further expansion of gambling in Illinois.

-Tom McDougal