Our Illinois Quad-Cities state representatives reluctantly went along with a solid majority supporting another Illinois gambling explosion.
Perhaps “explosion” overstates the addition of 20,700 gaming positions — which are gaming machines or seats at a gaming table — at five casinos and five horse racing tracks. Illinois already is implementing the last explosion that permits electronic games at taverns and restaurants. State lawmakers have expanded gaming so often these exponential increases don’t seem to pack the wallop they used to.
Tavern gambling, by the most conservative estimates, will add 45,000 gaming positions. Illinois’ lawmakers were first in the nation to put their state lottery online.
In 2009, they expanded online parimutuel betting to bring wagering to laptops, iPads and smartphones.
The next explosion? Senate president John Cullerton this month introduced a bill authorizing online poker and other personal digital gaming statewide.
Illinois educators, transportation planners and economic development leaders are counting on millions of Illinois gamblers to up their personal ante.
Gambling has been called the “sucker tax.” If lawmakers are successful, Illinois will have to be flush with suckers.
The newest gambling expansion proposal now pending in the Senate is tied to reviving Illinois horse racing. We love the provision in the bill that would bring two- to three-months of weekend harness races to the Quad-City Downs. We can even support limited electronic gaming at existing tracks specifically to boost the purses that can revive racing.
But this cobbled mess isn’t about reviving the horse industry.
It would decimate the tourism gaming business meticulously nurtured by Jumer’s Casino and Hotel and Illinois’ nine other casinos.
It would richly reward Arlington Park for running its Quad-City Downs into the ground. Arlington Park is the Illinois-based subsidiary of Churchill Downs that has reaped millions in profits from OTBs licensed to the Downs. But Arlington Park never had to pay a penny in local gaming taxes to the Quad-Cities, unlike every other gaming entity in the state. This new legislation offers East Moline and Rock Island County a sliver of slot revenue, far less than Iowa-side casinos pay locally. And it still leaves the Downs’ East Moline OTB operation off-limits to local taxes.
This bill would make the city of Chicago a casino owner. Not the licensor or regulator. Chicago’s municipal government would own a casino. Lawmakers should keep working on crafting focused legislation to revive horse racing, the first legal gambling in Illinois. But even with targeted incentives, we’re not sure parimutuel wagering can survive in a state with unfettered gaming everywhere else.
P.T. Barnum has been cited widely as the source for a famous quip: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” That birth rate would be insufficient to sustain the revenue Illinois lawmakers are counting on from five new casinos and 20,700 gaming positions added by this bill.