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Another View

​What’s the limit?

Legalized sports gambling isn’t the golden goose that it used to be.

When the new Illinois governor and Legislature take office in January, they will encounter difficult financial issues and, given their aversion to facing hard facts, immediately begin looking for an easy solution.

In search of a revenue boost, they can be expected to legalize marijuana and expand gambling. Marijuana represents an entirely new frontier for this state. Who can say what the future holds regarding tax revenue on that question?

But Illinois has had long experience with gambling, and it no longer looks like the surefire winner it once did.

After all, Illinois has been there and done that.

There is, however, an exception – sports gambling.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal legislation barring sports gambling in most states, public officials across the country have been considering how to monetize that practice by legalizing it in their states. There, surely, will be demand. But how much will it produce in tax revenue for Illinois if it is legalized here in a big way?

Everyone will just have to wait and see.

There are fewer questions surrounding other forms of gambling here – the state lottery, racetracks, 10 casinos and video gambling on virtually every street corner. A recent report prepared by a state legislative commission revealed that video gambling, introduced only five years ago, is growing like gangbusters. But the other three, in terms of generating tax revenues, are falling off. The lottery still does big business, although not as much as it used to do. Horse racing is on life support. Only two of 10 casinos are operating growing businesses.

It’s clear the various gambling businesses – particularly video gambling outlets and casinos – are cannibalizing each other’s businesses. Casinos that once minted money no longer do. It seems obvious that if Illinois is to benefit any further from casinos, it would have to open a new venue, or multiple, in Chicago. After all, it’s the big city, not just in terms of population, but in visitors from all over the world. That would be a huge business, the kind that political insiders there would fight to control.

The mind reels at the potential criminal indictments that could be generated from the scrum over who would own what in that deeply corrupt municipality.

At the same time, it’s a sure thing that owners of existing casinos in Joliet and Des Plaines, the two whose revenues are still going up, would hate the idea because they know they’d lose a big part of their customer base to Chicago. But in terms of state revenue, Chicago casinos would be a big winner, maybe even the only winner the state can depend on under the current format. In that sense, those in the gambling business in Illinois are in the same boat as the gamblers in Illinois. In video gambling, the house always wins. So the individuals gamblers who come out ahead must do so at the expense of the individual gamblers who don’t.

As cannibalization increases, those enterprises that manage to stay afloat or even make big profits will do so at the expense either of other types of gambling – horse racing or lottery – or gambling entities – Chicago competing against casinos in Des Plaines or Joliet. There’s no telling what the limit on gambling is in Illinois. But there must be one, and this state has to be getting close to reaching it.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

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