Casinos a bad gamble for Illinois

By Justin Doran

State funding has been in the news for a while because of the Senate’s resistance to file a budget that pleases, or at least appeases, our governor (the one not on trial). For residents of Chicago, however, the issue is affecting their daily lives. The Chicago Transit Authority, and other components of the Chicago mass transit system, have been so woefully underfunded that they have been approaching an operational shutdown. This has led influential state politicians, especially those who draw their power from the city, to propose alternative funding in the form of more state-sponsored casinos.

Although I recognize that the situation may very well be dire, this kind of cure is worse than the disease. Gambling draws from a specific demographic, which includes the usual mass-transit traffic, of the socially disadvantaged, the financially mismanaged and the addicted whose lives are tragic.

When we look at the average casino patron, there are a number of sad categories for them to fall into. Foremost is the habitual gambler, who spends nearly every paycheck on risky bets, out of an urge that has been labeled a disease by reputable addiction organizations. A similar type is the person who is living beyond their means, and believes that they can make up the difference through a stroke of luck.

Of course there are the more healthy gamblers, who are looking for a good time, and keep to a budget. However, the people that are most likely to gamble consistently are those who are compelled, through self-destructive motives, to come back over and over again.

Now, I’m not denying that there is a component of choice in spending your paycheck at a casino; certainly a crucial component of this discussion is personal responsibility. However, the landscape changes when casino revenues are being laundered into the state coffers. Now a serious question arises as to whether what our senate advises is a responsible cure, or a tax on the poor that legalized gambling disguises.

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    There is a significant difference between a private organization systematically taking advantage of helpless people for profit, and the government doing so. We concede, in a free-market economy, that businesses are allowed to sell ice to Eskimos. This does not mean that we find it morally palatable, and we should hold the government to a higher standard.

    Moreover, if a land-based casino is established in Chicago to fund the mass-transit system, the city will become dependent on gambling as a source of income. It would never be acceptable for politicians to unabashedly propose a tax on the irresponsible. However, with only one step of obfuscation in between, state-run casinos are exactly that. At least when those people decide to go gambling they won’t need a pace that’s faster than ambling because they won’t have to strain to find a fast train, but for their dinner they might be scrambling.