Guest Column: What a Chicago casino means for faith in government

June 8, 2011

By Doug Dobmeyer

Government now under fire from so many sectors remains a necessary part of social life in the world, this country and our city. To this point, city government has historically been the protector, helpful hand and sometimes arbitrator to citizens of Chicago.

Now, Chicago city government is setting a new course by wanting to become the owner of a casino to enhance the bottom line of money for city coffers. This move takes the city away from the traditional way of raising money through taxes and fees. The new method puts the city into the entrepreneurial class that calls for investment and a return of profit for a product.

In this case, the product is called an entertainment venue. Since most gamblers are losers, a happy face must be created for the losers. Currently, casino customers to Illinois’ nine existing casinos lose $102 on average for each visit. With the move by Chicago to own a casino looms an opportunity for abuse of the city’s citizens and visitors to this world-class city.

One concern is the problem gamblers who inhabit the gambling paradise being created. 2001 research published in the Journal of Studies of Alcohol shows 4..2 percent of Latinos, 3.7 percent of African-Americans and .5 percent of whites have gambling problems. The math clearly shows that minorities will be carrying the burden of gambling problems.

Chicago’s effort to have a city-owned casino is certainly provocative and in some circles considered innovative. The decision to move ahead with the radical departure from government as it’s been known for centuries comes without an ounce of discussion by the public. A new mayor, in office for less than a month, was instrumental in achieving what the long-term former mayor was unable to accomplish in 22 years. This radical change to the political landscape would reshape Chicago forever.

This change defies the concept of democracy by consolidating power for change in the hands of a very few people with no discussion. History has shown similar undemocratic moves have proved to be detrimental for citizens.

We know that City Hall is frustrated with property taxes that seemed to have reached a maximum of taxation. Other income streams such as parking fees may have reached their zenith, too.

Chicago government has been loath, unlike New York City, to consider, let alone enact a city income tax or a tax on stock trades and derivatives. Both of these options would provide sufficient funding to finance city government. The taxation would fall within the traditional format of government.

Chicago has toyed with the entrepreneurial format when it leased the Skyway bridge and now infamous parking meter deal with mixed results. Consideration has been given to leasing operations at Midway Airport, but the trigger has not been pulled. This inaction shows that Chicago is unsure and uncomfortable about jumping into this entrepreneurial format of government.

A citizen who gets into gambling too deeply will have to rely on a self-interested private sector organization such as the casino manager or the city as the owner to find assistance for remedies for their gambling problems. This does not bode well for the problem gambler.

Citizens would be better served if before Chicago enters into any uncharted waters, to have a discussion in an unbiased manner with all sides represented. If Chicago then decided to go the route of a city-owned casino, the support would be stronger. If people through a referendum decided this was not the way to move, then the subject should be dropped.

Doug Dobmeyer is the spokesperson for The Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago. The Task Force, made up of civic, religious and individuals, has been active in opposing a Chicago casino for the past 22 years.

From the June 8-14, 2011 issue

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