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POINT: Should gambling be expanded in Illinois?

Yes, state needs to compete with others — and it could also use the revenue

    Up and down Illinois, people head to casinos and gamble.
    They just do it in every state surrounding us.
    Indiana annually pockets hundreds of millions of dollars from Illinois customers.p02 Link Tour buses routinely head out from Chicago hotels for gambling excursions.
    It’s not by chance that Indiana has placed casinos so close to Illinois, and then sat back and chuckled as we wring our hands over whether or not gambling should expand in Illinois.
    Of course, it should, if for no other reason than to keep customers here.
    If Illinois expands gambling, several Indiana casinos will close.
    Illinois’ fiscal situation is already dire. It is almost irresponsible to sit and watch as bus after bus takes potential Illinois revenues across the border into Indiana.
    Instead, what we can do is actually compete with our neighboring states.
    Illinois’ population nearly doubles the size of Indiana. Yet, we only have 10 casinos compared to Indiana’s 13. Wisconsin has more than 20 casinos throughout the state and doesn’t even eclipse six million residents.
    In Chicago, the third-largest city in the country, there is no casino. Indiana knew that, and now there are three casinos just over the border in the northwest corner of the Hoosier state.
    Between July 2015 and June 2016, the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Indiana, raked in $69.7 million in tax revenues. The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond brought Indiana a windfall of $140.3 million in that year. Indiana total gaming revenues outpaced Illinois by $800 million.
    While we don’t know the exact amount of potential Illinois revenue that was lost to those two casinos, we can be sure that it wasn’t the bustling metropolises of Hammond and East Chicago that were driving those kinds of revenues for Indiana.
    Casinos also bring both temporary and permanent jobs and much-needed local revenue to many communities that have been ravaged by the divestment of manufacturing. It also emphasizes the need to invest in all kinds of communities throughout Illinois, including minority- and female-owned businesses.
    The people of Danville continue to watch as those buses of tourists continue to barrel through their city on their way to a casino in Indianapolis. Putting a casino in Danville helps to keep Illinois dollars in Illinois, it also invests in a community that has been devastated by the loss of manufacturing.
    Senate Bill 7 looks to recoup some of the losses in our gaming economy.
    By 2021, Illinois would add six new casinos in Chicago, Lake County, the south suburbs, Rockford, Danville and Williamson County in Southern Illinois.
    In new revenues, conservative estimates suggest that state and local governments would receive an additional $87 million a year within one year of all six casinos opening. In one time revenues, the state would see more than $1 billion from licensing and fees.
    The Chicago casino alone is estimated to generate about $500 million in adjusted gross receipts, which would drive $150 million into state funds. The other $350 million would be retained by the City of Chicago, which would put those revenues into the city’s police and fire pension funds to comply with current law.
    Senate Bill 7 also would allow video gaming at race tracks throughout the state, enabling Illinois to compete with surrounding states that have used horse racing and video gaming to create “racinos.”
    Illinois’ dire fiscal situation dictates that we cannot continue to sit on our hands and watch as our neighboring states continue to laugh and rake in our money.  We must be proactive in protecting all parts of our state’s economy.
    Many people every day tell us we can’t expand gaming because gaming is bad. We cannot build a wall around Illinois residents and shield them from the evils of gaming. We cannot stop free will, and all we do by stifling gaming in Illinois is allow potential revenue to leave our state.
    That is money that could be invested in our schools, our universities and our social services.
    The hand wringing needs to stop when our fiscal woes are so deep. Expanding gaming is not a cure-all for every fiscal issue our state faces, but it definitely needs to be a part of the solution — if for no other reason than to protect the Illinois economy anyway we can.
    State Sen. Terry Link is a Democrat from Vernon Hills. He currently serves as assistant majority leader of the Illinois Senate. He participated in this month’s debate at the request of the Illinois Business Journal. Senate Bill 7’s ultimate passage is currently connected to a series of bills that are aimed at resolving budget differences in Illinois. Because elements of that package failed, the gambling expansion remains in limbo.

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