Left Justified: Here comes the gambling boat!

Left Justified: Here comes the gambling boat!

By By Stanley Campbell

They said it wouldn’t happen. Rockford will never have a chance to get a gambling boat. But after Illinois’ “gaming” officials approved a deal barring Emerald Casino from doing business in the state (too many mobsters on the payroll), and miracle of miracles, Chicago refused to jump into the bidding for that license, it looks like Rockford might get a chance.

There were two local groups working on the Rock River—kinda like a Republican boat and a Democratic boat.

Palace Development, Inc. is the only investor left waving money, and they’ve been trying since 1994. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view the case), our mayor is planning to help put in a bid for the license.

I don’t want to go into the arguments against gambling: that it increases the number of addicts in a community, which then increases the number of indigent families and then increases the amount of crime and poverty. Or that so much money is made off so few people, and the money could be better spent. Or that economic studies show a community loses money in the long run as well as jobs and investments. No, I won’t mention that at all. What I will mention is that a few years ago, Winnebago County voted by over 75 percent to have a say in whether we get a boat or not. Winnebago County citizens should be asked first, if they want a boat, before any more time and effort is made to bring one to our fair city.

But let me mention more about the addict. We know certain people are susceptible to addiction. Some people get a real rush out of alcohol, and a lot of folks get addicted to cocaine and heroin. Only 5 percent of the population is susceptible to “gambling fever.” And of those, almost half will never step into a casino ‘cause it’s not right in front of ‘em. Gambling has had a checkered past as a way of making money. People gamble for entertainment and to make their golf game a little more exciting. Governments and churches used lotteries and raffles as a way of raising funds for doing good.

In the 1880s, this country was awash in gaming with public and private ventures nearly on every street corner. But people saw their friends and family members hit bottom, and there was a backlash that outlawed most wagering ventures. It’s not a pretty sight to see loved ones throw their life savings away: folks trying to cash in quickly or a single uncle who’s always got a new hustle.

But as gambling becomes more prevalent, we’ll know more addicts. It’d be fair if the gaming industry promised recovery programs for every addict, but in reality, the industry lives off its addicts. Over 80 percent of casino funds come from addicted gamblers.

People say this is just entertainment, but with 5 percent of the population susceptible to addictions (alcohol and cigarettes included), then that industry must at least be regulated if not forced to pay for the damage they do.

Let us vote before we invite the fox into our hen house.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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