by Professor John Kindt*
Enshrining the spirit of “unofficial” St. Patrick’s Day and the bar owners lobby, on May 15, 2012, the Champaign City Council passed a fast-tracked ordinance which was supported by little analysis or debate, but which legalized slot machines/video gambling machines (VGMs) in bars. Apparently, there had been no official Council study session on the new crime or student costs caused by VGMs in bars, and the Council ignored the suggestion to postpone any vote until an official study session could be held.
This important development was buried by the News-Gazette story on page B2 in a few end paragraphs, whereas a similar gambling scenario years ago referenced by Council Member Michael La Due had generated front-page news for months. VGMs constitute “predatory gambling” and not “fun and games” as is documented at www.stoppredatorygambling.org which is a charity paralleling Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
One Council Member exemplified the Council’s curt reliance on only biased sources of information, by emphasizing talks and information from “bar owners.” By comparison, the Chair of the Illinois Gaming Board Aaron Jaffe has complained repeatedly about the nebulous VGM regulations, the lack of enforcement employees, concerns of organized crime, and the entire proposed gambling regulatory schema, summarizing “You can’t make perfume out of a pile of garbage.”
The tenor of most Council Members was to ignore and to belittle factual statistics, particularly those facts enumerated in the December 7, 2009 resolution by the University of Illinois Academic Senate which also stated: “For the welfare of the student population and the general public, the UIUC Senate urges the Champaign County Board, the Urbana City Council, the Champaign City Council, and surrounding governmental units to enact new bans prohibiting video gambling machines.” A month later, even the UIUC Student Senate concurred via an official resolution and utilized almost identical language.
Since these resolutions were passed by the UIUC Faculty Senate and the UIUC Student Senate, the Springfield liquor lobby has targeted the Champaign-Urbana area-particularly since the Student Resolution emphasized that “Illinois college communities, such as Carbondale, have recently banned or are poised to ban video gambling machines as problematic for students.”
Young people are demonstrating double the national average for “gambling addiction,” as reported in academic studies, as well as in the documentation for the bipartisan U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission, co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL). Furthermore, the Commission discovered that proximity to these VGMs catalyzed large increases in gambling addictions, enticing 2% to 6% of young people into gambling addiction-depending on convenient access to the VGMs.
The disturbing addiction parallels between “drug addiction” and “gambling addiction” are summarized and documented by 60 Minutes at its online webpage where viewers may watch its short news video “Slot Machines: The Big Gamble,” which utilized UIUC research.
The UIUC Academic Senate Resolution also highlighted that Senator Simon’s Gambling Commission, “noted that the psychological, sociological, and psychiatric communities commonly refer to video gambling machines as the ‘crack cocaine’ of creating new addicted gamblers.” Recommendation 3.6 of the U.S. Commission called for the total re-criminalization of VGMs convenient to the public-and thereafter, for example, South Carolina “wiped the slate clean” and re-criminalized all VGMs statewide.
When the urban home of the premier research university in Illinois demonstrates a cavalier disregard for the overwhelming weight of academic and U.S. government statistics, the Champaign Council’s vote to embrace VGMs is an embarrassment to the entire State of Illinois. However, this vote is a public relations coup for the Springfield liquor and gambling lobbies-who can now try to leverage Carbondale and 267 other communities/counties with bans against VGMs.
These bans include approximately 85 communities who have strengthened their bans by passing new laws since 2009, including DuPage County via a unanimous vote and even Cook County by a 10 to 4 vote. It is a surprise when Cook County sets the high ethical standard for Illinois by banning VGMs. Perhaps more surprising is the legislation now pending to strengthen a ban on VGMs in the City of Chicago.
According to recent Illinois Gaming Board statistics, 9 out of 10 Illinois communities/counties have bans, and despite 3 years of multi-million-dollar lobbying campaigns, only 31 Illinois communities have prior or current ordinances allowing VGMs. Lobbyists, however, may now point to Champaign City’s aberrant leadership to persuade other communities to disregard the recommendation of Senator Simon’s U.S. Gambling Commission to re-criminalize all VGMs convenient to the public.
As noted in the UIUC Academic Senate Resolution, the “Chicago Tribune (7-12-09), the Chicago Sun-Times (5-14-09), and other Illinois news media have editorialized and commented against the Video Gambling Act, including calling for its repeal (Chicago Tribune, 9-11-09).”
To paraphrase George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” Illinois communities, particularly Champaign City, should do their homework and remember why gambling was historically banned not just in local ordinances, but also in state statutes, and even many state constitutions.
Those who argue for tax revenues from the VGMs should recognize that the average VGM makes $100,000 per year. If under Illinois regulations, 35% goes to the owner of the machine, 35% to the bar owner, 25% to the state, and 5% to the local government, then the locale only receives approximately $5,000 per machine.
The national statistics indicate that the crime costs and social costs to the taxpayers of just one new addicted gambler vary between $10,500 and $35,000 per year. Calculating the new anticipated gambling addicts per the U.S. Gambling Commission formulae, the costs are $3 to $8 for every new $1 in tax revenues.
Crime increases approximately 10% per year every year around established gambling facilities with VGMs-as people lose their money. This crime statistic is well-established by a definitive study published by Harvard-MIT and re-published in the 2009-2012 multi-volume U.S. International Gambling