Critic: More Illinois gambling could bring more problems

By Greg Bishop
The Center Square

A gambling critic said the state could lose a bet on how many jobs will be created by expanding Illinois’ gambling industry.

While state officials expect to see more gambling revenue, that revenue could come with additional problems.

Along with the infrastructure bill that doubles the state’s gas tax to 38 cents a gallon and increased vehicle registration and other driving fees, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the gambling expansion bill Friday. The measure adds six new casinos around the state, increases the number of video gambling machines allowed, increases how much video gambling players can bet and win and also increases taxes on video gambling and adds a $1 per pack cigarette tax.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, said the legalized sports betting component of the gambling expansion bill could come together by the time football season starts, if not by the time to place bets for the Super Bowl.

“And I think some of the [sports] facilities will be able to do that because they have the unique technology available,” Link said. “So I think they will get up quicker than others.”

The governor’s office said the overall gambling expansion law, combined with a doubling of the gas tax to pay for infrastructure, will create more than 500,000 jobs.

“With this historic $45 billion capital plan, we’re fixing decades-long problems, creating good jobs, improving communities for the next generation – and doing it together, across party lines,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Gambling critic Anita Bedell, with Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, said former Gov. Pat Quinn promised jobs when they expanding video gambling.

“They didn’t get the number of jobs, they didn’t get the amount of money they predicted, so it will be the same thing,” Bedell said. “You know, it looks good on paper.”

Link, who has been working to expand gambling for years, said he expects more revenue for the state.

“I think the whole package will bring the revenue that I think we’re looking for,” Link said.

Bedell said nearly $7 million is set aside to help with problems associated with increased gambling. But there’s an additional 2 percent of the revenue set aside for crime prevention in Chicago, something Bedell said shows policymakers know will increase with expanded gambling.

“When gamblers lose their money, they borrow and when they can’t borrow anymore, they steal, they embezzle, they commit crimes to get money to gamble,” Bedell said.

In one such high-profile embezzlement case, the former president of the village of Posen pleaded guilty to embezzling $27,000 from the village to spend at casinos. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said Donald Schupek faces a maximum of ten years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

While Bedell said there is a study planned on where a Chicago casino should go, she urged lawmakers for a statewide study on gambling and associated social problems.

Pritzker visited Rockford, Chicago and Waukegan on Monday. He continues on his statewide tour Tuesday with stops in parts of Southern Illinois to promote jobs and construction projects to be paid for with expanded gambling and increased taxes.

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