While some powerful political and business leaders in Illinois are proposing a huge expansion of legal gambling to provide funding for mass transit in the Chicago region, coalitions of Chicago ministers, other political leaders, and economists are coming together to fight the proposal.
Supporters include Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) and Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago). Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who campaigned on promises to block gambling expansion, has been holding closed-door talks with lawmakers to hammer out a gambling expansion deal.
Illinois has 10 riverboat casino licenses, nine of which are in use. House Bill 2035 would increase the number of casino licenses to 12. Slot machines at horse racing tracks also would be allowed, turning them into “racinos.” Many analysts say Illinois would end up on a par with Nevada and New Jersey as a haven for legal gambling.
Strong opposition is building.
State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), pastor of Salem Baptist Church, has joined other Chicago ministers in calling gambling “a tax on poor people” and has promised he will oppose expansion.
In a Chicago appearance last October, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) struck the same theme, warning state lawmakers not to rely on gambling to solve their budget problems. He said gambling tends to attract people who lose money “they can’t afford to lose.”
Some respected academic researchers are also siding with the anti-gambling forces.
“I’ve said before, ‘You cannot gamble your way to prosperity,'” said University of Illinois business professor John Kindt, who has been researching the economics of gambling for nearly 20 years.
“It’s poor tax policy. The social costs of gambling [from increased crime, lost worker productivity, and other problems] are $3 for every $1 in benefits,” Kindt said. “It results in a net loss of thousands of jobs every year. You’re just dumping money into casinos and out of the consumer economy.”
— Steve Stanek