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Guest Column: New law could create mini-casinos in your community

September 16, 2009

By Anita Bedell

While lawmakers and the governor are touting new construction projects in communities, this same legislation (H.B. 255) includes the largest expansion of gambling in the history of Illinois.

Illinois would be the first state in the nation to put the Lottery on the Internet if this section of the law receives approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. Illinois residents, 18 years of age and older, would be able to purchase Lottery tickets from their computers, cell phones or BlackBerries 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The new law also allows all licensed retail establishments where alcohol is drawn, poured, mixed or served on the premise to conduct video gambling. Restaurants, bars, banquet halls, bowling alleys, billiard parlors, beauty shops, truck stops, veteran and fraternal clubs could each have five video gambling machines. These local establishments will be transformed into mini-casinos in neighborhoods statewide. There is no limit to the number of establishments that can apply for a license.

Underage drinking is already a problem in many communities. Underage gambling is a growing problem that will likely increase if video gambling machines are legalized in restaurants and locations frequented by children and minors. Video gambling will be difficult to regulate, monitor and enforce at so many locations statewide.

A candidate for sheriff in Allen County, Ind., best summarizes our concerns when he said:
This type of gambling has been shown to increase crime, destroy families and diminish our wholesome way of life. Our prosecutors and judges will see an increase in criminal cases as well as bankruptcies. Our township trustee officers and churches should be concerned because when those who have the least gamble and lose, they end up needing additional assistance from the public and private sectors. Our police and sheriff’s departments will also feel the effects from increased domestic violence, robbery, thefts, drunken drivers and increased man-hours for additional investigations. Which brings the cost back to you and me, the taxpayers who will be asked to pay for the increased budgets to combat these crimes against society.

Electronic gambling devices in neighborhood outlets provide fewer economic benefits and create potentially greater social costs by making gambling more available and accessible, according to the National Gambling Impact Commission. They recommended that states should not authorize any further convenience gambling operations and should cease and roll back existing operations.

A 1997 research study by the South Carolina Center for Gambling Studies found that as many as 20 percent of current video poker players in South Carolina may meet the criteria for pathological gambling. Problem drinkers are 23 times more likely to have a gambling problem than individuals who do not have a gambling problem. Alcohol and gambling are a volatile mix. Legalizing electronic gambling devices at establishments that serve alcohol will result in more pathological gamblers and more alcohol abuse.

While legislators who voted for HB 255 called it a
jobs bill,

legalizing video poker machines could result in a loss of jobs. A leading study from Australia concluded that
for every 80 video gambling machines, $2 million was drained from and damaged the local economy each year. Furthermore, in this example, for every three video gambling machines, two jobs were lost. The average worldwide was one job lost each year per electronic gambling device/slot machine,

according to the 2009 U.S. International Gambling Report, Gambling: Executive Summaries & Recommendations.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy noted,
There is growing evidence that state-sponsored gambling is both inequitable and inadequate as a long-term revenue source—and that the associated social costs of encouraging destructive gambling behavior may offset much of the revenue gains enjoyed by states in the short run.

More than 87 percent of the revenue at Illinois casinos comes from electronic gambling machines. These are the same types of machines that were legalized for your community. Your friends, children and grandchildren will be exposed to gambling in neighborhoods near your home. Making gambling more available and accessible will increase addiction and impact the health, welfare and safety of your community.

The new law contains a provision for a municipality to prohibit video gambling. Contact the mayor and city council members and ask them to pass an ordinance to prohibit video gambling machines in your community. Contact members of the county board and ask them to prohibit the machines in unincorporated areas. Speak out now, and let your local officials know that video gambling machines will harm your community.

Anita Bedell is executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems, with headquarters in Springfield, Ill.

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