Illinois lawmakers are more interested in winning votes than placing good bets. And the Quad-Cities would lose should six new casinos get green-lit as part of the state Senate's "grand bargain."
Stops, starts and politically induced comas have plagued the Senate's proposed end to Illinois' devastating budgetary statement. The dozen-bill package wins over minority Republicans one day, loses a few key Democrats the next. And then it's back to the penny slots for a beer and a quick cry.
Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno deserve credit for at least dealing. It's more than can be said for the state House or the governor's office.
But simply behaving like fully formed adults doesn't equate to good policy, even if the state stands to benefit from startup fees.
For years, lawmakers from across Illinois have wanted to score a shiny, new casino for their home districts. They boost property taxes, sales taxes and provide direct and indirect job creation. Surely, if scoring a few votes is the goal here, which it is, casino expansion is an easy way to win over a few hold-outs.
It's the plan's basis in economic reality, however, that should see it fold immediately.
Competition in Illinois' gambling market is already stiff. Statewide gross revenues at the 10 existing casinos in Illinois have plunged a half-billion since the peak in 2007, says the Illinois Gaming Board. There's no doubt that the sweeping addition of video gambling in bars throughout the state is hammering the till at established casinos throughout the state. Jumer's Hotel & Casino took in $88 million in 2012, according to state reports. It dropped to $75.6 million last year. The drop directly equates to smaller payments to local governments, tasked with picking up the increased need for law enforcement and social services that pair with gambling. Meanwhile, statewide video gambling revenue jumped almost $4 billion from 2015 to 2016.
More machines. More locations. More access.
Fact is, the proposal kicking around the Illinois Senate is just another example of Chicago getting a stacked hand. The bully card bill designates locations throughout the Windy City and its collar counties. Southern Illinois also would get dealt in, to a lesser extent.
It's no coincidence that the very lawmakers who could sink the "grand bargain" happen to hail from places that stand to gain most from casino expansion. The Quad-Cities can only lose.
The result, should the legislation survive, would be more locations catering to a relatively stagnant number of players.
More games. Same people. Smaller pots.
The bill's "spreading the wealth" provisions simply can't offset that reality. Permitting another 400 gaming seats at Jumer's won't be worth a wooden nickel if there's no one to fill them, as Jumer's spokesman Bill Renk told the Dispatch-Argus. And that's the result here. Quad-City tourism would decline. Its events would diminish. Those tour buses from Chicago would become a thing of the past. And local government would be left with another hole in its budget not of its own making.
Excuse the parochialism here. But Chicago, the seat of political and economic power, already benefits from a slew of special exemptions. This giveaway would have a demonstrable negative effect on Rock Island County.
Chicago might come up flush if casino expansion gets rammed through. But it would leave the Quad-Cities holding a pair of sixes.