Left Justified: You bet your life!

You like playing games and betting money against the odds. But do you like the thrill of losing money to major corporations and getting only a small payoff every now and then? Yet you think you have the chance of winning millions, so you keep on playing. That’s how the City of Rockford hopes its citizens will react to their new fund-raising scam.

You and your friends will visit the Rockford casino and plunk down hard-earned money as a way of “entertaining” yourself. And the city will get 10 percent, or maybe 5 percent, or maybe 2 percent. Whatever—they hope that a casino will improve the business and financial climate here in Forest City.

Gambling is a scheme that worked so well with the Illinois Lottery, right? The monies were to support the educational system, but as everyone knows, what was put in by the Lottery was taken out for roads and pork. In gamblers’ parlance, it’s called a shell game. Our city fathers want to make money off a casino. It will most likely be built on the south side of Rockford, near the Highway 20 bypass. The land is most likely owned by the Rockford Blacktop octopus, and I’m sure the investors are all well connected to the present city administration. They hope to reap a bundle from a casino license. And they probably will.

Because a casino is like getting a license to print money. The vast majority of people who come into a casino will play a few bucks, drink a beer, maybe have lunch and leave. But that’s not where the investors make their cash. It’s off the 4 to 5 percent of compulsive gamblers. Eighty percent of the income comes from 20 percent of the players, who make up the compulsive gamblers, your neighbors and my friends.

The compulsive gambler is like any other addict. They are born with genes that make it difficult for them to stop their addictive behavior. Only 5 percent of the population is susceptible to the addictive nature of gambling, whereas alcohol could affect 20 percent, heroin 50 percent, and crack cocaine almost 80 percent. Gambling drives less than 5 percent into poverty, but that’s still a good chunk of the population, and when there’s more gambling, there are more addicts. Is it right that 95 percent of the people will pay fewer taxes because 5 percent are addicts and will compulsively bet all they own? And who ends up taking care of the families?

Much is said about the poor economics of having a casino in your back yard. Granted, the percentage off the top to the city council is a quick infusion of cash, and they will be more than happy to spend it on a larger police force. But the city fathers should direct those funds to Gamblers Anonymous and counselors for addicts as well as social services to the families affected. And there won’t be enough money.

The drive to get a casino into Rockford is gaining ground. We in the Enough Is Enough anti-gambling group were taken by surprise with how fast the proposal for a Rockford casino grew. We believed the politicians when they said, “No chance!”

But, like scared rabbits, those same politicians ran when a threat of a Beloit casino reared its ugly head. That is a ploy used by most casino developers: “One is going to move across the border next door, so why don’t you put one up first?”

And who can blame the city, county and state representatives for seeking income from a casino? It’s quick money, it makes their friends wealthy, and it doesn’t hurt too many people—except 5 percent of the population of Winnebago County is almost 12,000 individuals. If only half get hooked, that’s still a lot of families, neighbors and friends who will feel the effects. Let me say that I believe the Beloit casino will not come about. The voters of Rock County voted against it and some of the politicians are turning sour on the idea. But now Wisconsin may try to rush a casino in to counter the Rockford casino.

Join me in a short prayer service just before the City Council meeting on Monday, May 17 at 5:30 p.m. At this point, it looks like it will take a miracle if the Rockford casino is turned away. I pray for that miracle. I hope you do, too.

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

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