Not a sure bet, but a safe one

By Dan Streib

The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago need money. Mass transit is a major concern and funds expended to improve it could come at the cost of education. I’m sorry, but those are the facts, and many people in our government think that state-run, land-based gambling casinos are the best solution to that problem. Despite my general disapproval of many of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s reckless schemes to carry out his questionable ambitions, I wholeheartedly concur with the pro-casino side of this debate so all of Chicago’s objectives can be achieved.

But there is a legitimate opposition to the state’s idea of casino construction. Besides the moral hesitation regarding the act of gambling itself (an argument that can never be won by either side) there is a pressing, strong ethical concern about creating these state-run, land-based casinos – it’s the fact that many of the people that go to these casinos come from the poorer sectors of society. Isn’t creating state-run casinos an easy way of creating an indirect tax on the poor? Perhaps. Yet there are many variables that need to be accounted for.

Because those who already gamble won’t be adversely affected by another casino, a crucial question emerges: Do new casinos create new gamblers? Maybe. But it has always been questionable how many new gamblers new casinos actually create – especially if there are other casinos nearby.

But in trying to find nearby casinos, one does not even need to look on a map to see all the water-based casinos – one needs only to glance in their own home. That’s right, take a look at your computer. For those of you with Internet access there’s a casino right there inside of your PC! And although a real casino may encourage people to gamble, Internet casinos can do the same with their ease of use, addictiveness and the detachment from reality brought about by their virtual setting. With this fact in mind, one has to be skeptical of those who say that a new casino will attract those that are less well-off or addicted to gambling. Internet access is ever more widespread, and those who have it may already have a favorite casino.

As anyone can see, it is difficult to judge the effect of the addition of land-based casinos for Chicago. One has to give critics of building casinos proper respect due to their cautiousness in regards to unknown variables and their ethical concerns. But if new casinos do not have all of the adverse effects they claim, the state should not hesitate in their construction. The state already has pressing ethical concerns regarding transportation and education – concerns that cannot be fought on an empty budgetary stomach. Also, once these issues – issues that do affect the impoverished – are solved, then underlying causes of some people’s reckless use of personal finances can be examined. Additionally, state-run land-based casinos would indeed be practical solutions to the impractical problem of the state government’s financial shortages. And who’s to argue with that?