Doubling Down

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Betting on video slots is not a viable revenue solution

By John Guevara
Winnebago County Board

My friend and Chairman of the County Operations Committee, Gary Jury, asked me if I thought it was OK to put slot machines in government buildings. I didn’t bat an eye when I told him no. Honestly, it was never something I had considered. When he told me that the Forest Preserve had voted to put slot machines at one of their golf courses, I was concerned.

Now, I’ve often been criticized as anti-gambling. I’ve bought lottery tickets. I’ve played slot machines. I’ve played cards before. At no time have I ever felt a  compulsion to gamble in any form. I see it as entertainment.

But I’m also aware that there are other people who have a mighty struggle with gambling, just as people have mighty struggles with alcoholism or smoking. If I come across as anti-gambling it’s because I’m just trying to find the best way to help people. If that means banning gambling, I’m in. Whatever the solution, it should be the best one to do the most good.

So what’s the problem with slot machines, other than contributing to gambling addiction? I remember when we voted on accepting a portion of the revenue from slot machines placed in the county. One of the concerns that was raised was whether slot machines would proliferate like weeds in an untended yard.

After a few years, when I look around, I feel like I woke up in Slottown, USA. They’re everywhere. Every bar, every restaurant, there’s businesses dedicated solely to slot machines in every corner of the county now.

The problem that people don’t know about is that slot machines cost the community money. You see, when slot machines became available, people in the community put more of their money into slot machines leaving less money to buy local products.

Less product sales meant less local sales taxes. The result was, the state siphoned away money that would been spent on local products generating local sales taxes. Now, local governments get a whole lot less revenue from slot machines than they do from sales taxes.

The result is similar to what happens in a recession. There’s less tax money to fix roads and put police on the street. So governments have a handful of choices. They can raise taxes. They can cut services. They can do some combination of both. Or governments can find alternative sources of revenue.

This is where slot machines in public buildings come in. If you can’t beat them, join them right? Wrong. If the problem is that there are too many slot machines siphoning too much money away from our community, adding more slot machines isn’t the answer.

And I’m not thrilled at the prospect of government competing with local restaurants, bars and grills. We want people that come to our community for sports tournaments or concerts to filter into local businesses, not sequester themselves in the public buildings playing slot machines.

In the end, as my friend Mr. Jury would say, “It’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”


 

More: Park District says numbers don’t add up for slots.

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