Left Justified: Betting on video slots

By Stanley Campbell

Rockford will lose in the long run by allowing video slot machines in every bar in town.

Unless Rockford receives a greater percentage of the gross receipts, and then shares some of the funds with counseling programs for the addicts, we will be left with the short end of a very muddy stick.

Rockford Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) asked his city council subcommittee to consider opting out of video slots. They said a very emphatic “No,” and wouldn’t even consider a public hearing. I think they treated Frank Beach’s request too curtly. He asked as a personal favor, and his fellow aldermen rejected it out of hand (they’d “heard enough”). Frank has served this city for a long time, and very fairly. He was treated unfairly.

Besides, there were some uncalled-for remarks during the committee hearing. The aldermen believe they must institute video slots so Rockford can get money from future Illinois capital campaigns. Our own state senator, Dave Syverson (R), delivered this threat. Funny, the legislation says local governments may opt out without any retribution from the state. I think it’s sad Syverson implied Rockford would get less capital improvement money if we consider opting out of video slots.

There also was no mention of the suffering as a result of family members plunking hard-earned currency into electronic, one-armed bandits.

There should be some way to cut people off if they’re addicts, kinda like not serving an alcoholic a drink (OK, some people would, but it really isn’t moral to give booze to a drunkard). There’s a difference between letting someone get drunk and destroying themselves and their families, or making money off the drunkards and gambling addicts. If we make money off the addict, aren’t we liable for damages? Isn’t that worse than the cigarette companies, who still kill most of their customers with their product?

Video slots will be a boon to the bars. It is hoped they won’t abuse their patrons. But the first bar that loan sharks to its customers should lose its license. Gambling is a great way to ring up debts, especially if there’s an ATM between the bar and the machine. A bar shouldn’t be in the banking business, especially while serving intoxicants to their customers.

A member of the Illinois Gaming Board will be in Rockford Thursday, Jan. 28. Eugene Winkler, five-year Illinois Gaming Board member, will discuss problems he’s encountered while serving on the Illinois board that oversees legalized gambling. Winkler is one of the members who has made a big difference on the regulation of gambling in Illinois.

Winkler will speak at 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28, at Christ United Methodist Church, 4509 Highcrest (at the corner of North Alpine). The program is free and open to the public. Winkler and other public officials have concerns about monitoring video slots. They’ve caught organized crime trying to weasel their way into state-sanctioned casinos.

We all enjoy playing games, and some like betting money against the odds. But where’s the thrill in losing to major corporations and getting only a small payoff every now and then? Yet, the city thinks it has the chance of winning millions. That’s how Rockford hopes its citizens will react to their new fund-raising scam.

There’s little concern for the addict. In fact, corporations troll for those susceptible to gambling. What if the liquor industry waited outside AA meetings with free samples? Well, the “gaming” industries entice elderly to fritter away time with free transportation, meals and even chips. Casinos won’t lose money if they can find that one-in-20 person who’ll dump everything into a bet.

You and your friends will soon be able to visit a mini-casino in any neighborhood and plunk down hard-earned money as a way of “entertaining” oneself. And the city will get 5 percent, or maybe 2 percent, or maybe a penny on the dollar. Whatever—they hope that video slot machines will improve the business and financial climate here in Forest City.

At the least, the city council should hold public hearings to gauge all the information that is floating around out there. I’m sure the bar owners will show up and try to muscle their points across (“we need a piece of the gambling action,” is the most succinct I’ve heard). And we can honor Ald. Beach for his attempts at protecting the weak of spirit.

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

From the Jan. 13-19, 2010 issue.

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