Earlier this summer, the BGA began shining a light on controversial legislation in Springfield that would dramatically expand gaming in Illinois. To push the process toward more transparency, and to better educate the public, we:

hosted a standing-room-only idea forum;

  • polled more than 1,000 blog readers; and

Here’s the full-version:

Before Expanding Gambling, Let’s Get All the Facts

By Andy Shaw, president & CEO,  BGA

In the final days of the spring legislative session the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill authorizing a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois that includes a city-owned casino in Chicago, casinos in four other locations and the installation of slot machines in airports and racetracks.

Senate Bill 744 is expected to reach Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk in the next month, and supporters are hoping that he signs it into law by October. The Better Government Association is not among them.

The BGA agrees with numerous critics of the bill, including the Tribune and the chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board, that this is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that should not become law until a much-needed fact-finding mission is completed.

The potential ramifications of the bill should be addressed, analyzed, discussed and debated openly and thoroughly so it’s better understood by the governor and the public. That, unfortunately, never happened in the rush-to-passage at the end of the legislative session.

For the record, the BGA is not ideologically opposed to an expansion of gambling, or a Chicago casino.

But the BGA is troubled by the hurried process that churned out a mammoth bill of breathtaking proportions. As a result the BGA proposes:

  • Forming an independent, fact-finding group. The governor should immediately appoint a review board, task force or commission mandated by Executive Order to explore the economic and social implications of SB 744. The group should produce a comprehensive report before the bill arrives on Quinn’s desk.
  • Soliciting meaningful public input. The legislature dealt the public out of this hand. Although the gambling expansion issue is not new to Illinois, SB 744 smacks of a “rush to judgment” that was passed without adequate due diligence. Public hearings should definitely be an integral part of the governor’s fact-finding task force.
  • Providing credible, independent economic research. There is a dismal lack of trustworthy economic research and data behind this bill, and it’s irresponsible not to assess its impact on Chicago and other communities throughout Illinois. The public deserves direct answers to some simple but crucial questions, including: What is the economic impact of new casinos around the state and the addition of so many more slot machines? What is the market demand for more gaming in Chicago and downstate markets and cities, especially now that video poker has been green-lighted by the Illinois Supreme Court? How many new jobs will really be created by the expansion? And what kind of jobs? Will state revenues actually increase or just be shifted away from other entertainment venues? What are the anticipated social costs?

Governor Quinn should marshal the resources of his government, including the Departments of Revenue and Commerce and Economic Development, along with experts from state universities and research from other states and municipalities to provide credible answers. Relying on outdated research, or studies produced by partisan forces, makes for bad decisions.

  • Explaining the risks to taxpayers. SB744 enables the City of Chicago to own a casino license. What are the risks to the city’s “shareholders”–the taxpayers–if a casino runs into financial trouble or goes bust? At the end of the day, would taxpayers be forced to bail out a failed casino? What are the rewards to the taxpayers of a city-owned casino? The people have a right to know their level of exposure or return on investment from this bill.
  • Protecting against crime. Will the public be properly protected from the criminal activity and influence that always seem to surface when gambling is involved? Can and will the state invest the resources needed to regulate, investigate and oversee the gambling concerns that enter or expand in Illinois?

These are essential questions that merit thoughtful examination in the context of the additional strain the expansion would place on the state’s existing gambling regulatory system. Aaron Jaffe, the head of the Illinois Gaming Board, the state’s top gaming regulator, has voiced serious doubts about SB744 and questions the ability of his agency to properly scrutinize more gaming vendors while also overseeing the legalization of video poker in other parts of the state.

To address these serious concerns, the BGA is recommending Gov. Quinn act fast and get the pertinent information and real answers necessary to complete the fact-finding process the General Assembly failed to deliver.

Absent credible, reliable and satisfactory data to support each of these preconditions, the Governor should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent this bill from becoming law.