We were just overwhelmed and outgunned. I expected 10 or 20 anti-casino activists to gather and share a prayer before the Monday, May 17 City Council meeting. (We prayed that the City Council would oppose a casino for Rockford.) But it seems the City Council was already set up to promote a casino. Almost 100 proponents, mainly members from the area Pipefitters, Carpenters and Laborers, surrounded the City Hall with signs and then packed the City Council chamber. First time I ever saw Labor support big business scalping the little guy, but they must be desperate for jobs.
We, the anti-gamblers, still had close to 30 people who shared a few prayers, at first in front of the proponents (that was brave) and then in the lobby of City Hall. We were not welcome where the aldermen were practicing democracy (they need more practice).
We were outclassed and outnumbered. It seems the mayor has been lobbying Springfield for his precious casino license, often driving downstate. While Mayor Scott was there in the state capital, the head of the Illinois legislative committee on Gaming suggested he get a City Council resolution passed in favor of more roulette tables. Coincidentally, the vote was the same evening as our announced anti-poker prayer service, and the proponents felt so threatened, they called in their troops.
I am sad to say the City Council passed the resolution in support of a casino for Rockford, 11 votes to 3. The Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Gaming then passed a bill authorizing casinos in Rockford, Chicago and two other cities. The bill goes to the full Senate and will most likely be voted on by the time this gets printed.
Illinois State Sen. David Syverson (and hes a Republican!) seems hell betting on a gambling boat for Rockford. Ones coming to Beloit is his rationale. I almost asked him if Wisconsin jumped off a roof, would he, but I bit my tongue.
Our advice: call your state senator now to oppose any new forms of gambling. Then call your state representative and warn him that the gambling bill is coming, and you want him to oppose it. Then call the governor and ask him to keep his pledge to oppose new forms of gambling.
Personally, I think we lost. Deals were struck, and unless a miracle occurs, we will have a full-fledged mini-Las Vegas here, and that new airline that just came to our airport can just fly around in circles and land right back in Forest City.
We will probably be blown out of the water by the casino riverboat as it comes up the Rock River. The combination of a casino in Beloit, Wis. and the states financial crisis may make our fight moot. But we have to try.
So, it would be nice if you could call the Governor (800-642-3112) to thank him for opposing a casino in Chicago and ask him to reject additional gambling proposals. Call your state senator (217-782-2000) and ask him to oppose all legislation that expands gambling. Ask him for your state representatives telephone number so that he knows you will be calling.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.