Speaker Madigan’s power and the facts on gambling

At any time Speaker of the State House Mike Madigan can end this governor’s race with a one-sentence statement to the press:

“Judy Baar Topinka’s plan to put a casino in Chicago is going nowhere.”

By her own admission, Topinka has no other option except to raise taxes. To make things worse for her, Blagojevich just reiterated his pledge not to raise taxes.

Speaking of gambling in Illinois, when state Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) introduced a bill to eliminate riverboat gambling in Illinois last year (HB 1920), his staff issued a list of talking points that are worth revisiting as Topinka’s solve-all-the-state’s-problems Chicago casino proposal gets vetted.  They make for interesting reading:

Talking Points in Support of the Elimination of Riverboat Gambling in Illinois

Riverboat gambling in Illinois should be eliminated because:

  1. Riverboat gambling is a drain on the local economy
  2. Gaming’s high social costs
  3. Riverboat gambling is not stable source of education funding.

The original intent of creating riverboats in Illinois was to help out the local economy. Let’s look at the facts:

• First of all, gambling is a regressive industry.

* It relies on local residents, most of whom live within 50 miles of the casino, to lose their hard-earned money, in order to turn a profit.

* In order for the state to generate $618 million dollars, local gamblers had to lose $1.7 billion dollars on the riverboats.

* Half of Illinois casino gamblers with annual incomes below $10,000 reported losing over $1,900 to the casinos in the previous year.

• The casino lobby will tell you they create jobs in the region. But the facts tell us something different:

* Casinos hurt the economy by siphoning off money from local residents that would have been spent in the retail sector or invested in the community. Instead, the money leaves the community and goes to the casino’s corporation headquarters.

* 4 of the 7 counties with casinos have unemployment rates higher than the rest of the state.

* Many of the products purchased by the riverboats are from out of state, and most of the casinos’ corporation headquarters are located outside of Illinois. That means most of the money leaves and never comes back.

The social burden of casinos is too much to bear.

Casinos cause a tremendous hardship on local residents through increased rates of addiction, crime, and financial troubles.

* Gambling addiction rates are twice the normal amount in the immediate areas surrounding casinos. With an average cost to society per pathological gambler of $13,586 per year, and doubled rates of addiction locally, this is an unacceptable cost.

* The presence of casinos generally increases the crime rate. In fact, in most cases the crime rate is higher in casino counties when compared to neighboring counties.

* Bankruptcy rates increase by 10% in Illinois’ casino counties versus non-casino counties.

* The Illinois Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that more than 20 Illinois residents have killed themselves as a result of a gambling addiction since the arrival of riverboat casinos.

* A nationwide survey of divorced adults found that “2 million adults identified a spouse’s gambling as a significant factor in their prior divorce.”

Casinos are not a good way to fund our schools.

Neglecting its original intent, the gaming industry is an unstable and disappointing method of funding local schools. While gaming does generate some revenue directly for schools, it is also a system that is detrimental.

* Look at the evidence, many schools in casino communities are on the financial aid watch list.

* According to Comptroller Hynes, Lottery Fund transfers for FY 04 were up $30 million while riverboat gambling transfers to the Education Assistance Fund declined by $26 million.

* Casino revenue and visitors have decreased over the past few years, meaning that the industry may be losing ground. In fact, gaming visitors are at their lowest level ever in 2004. Why should we fund our schools on such an unstable and unsavory industry?

The bottom line is this:

The state has come to rely on a system that hurts local businesses, causes unbearable social problems, fails to fund education adequately, and relies on Illinois residents to lose their hard earned money to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for gambling corporations outside of Illinois.

Riverboat gambling is an industry is detrimental to our economy and way of life.