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Illinois casino expansion would drain state's economy, U. of I. professor says

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor

John Kindt
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University of Illinois Photo

Gambling critic John Kindt says you "cannot gamble your way to prosperity."

Released 10/9/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —  Illinois would choke its economy and ruin lives if lawmakers expand gambling to bankroll statewide road improvements and mass transit in Chicago, a University of Illinois professor and national gambling critic says.

“You cannot gamble your way to prosperity. Every economist says you can’t do it,” said John W. Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy who has studied gambling since Illinois launched riverboat casinos nearly two decades ago.

A proposal approved by the Senate last month and now bound for the House would create three new casinos, add thousands of new gaming tables at the state’s nine existing riverboats and open the door for online betting on horse races, which Kindt calls “the worst kind of gambling.”

“It’s ‘click the mouse, lose your house,’ ” said Kindt, who has testified against gambling before Congress and the Illinois Legislature. “It puts gambling at every work desk and every school desk and in every living room. It would increase problem gambling rates exponentially.”

Kindt says betting on gambling to shore up Illinois’ sagging transportation system is misguided, citing studies that show the state takes in only 20 percent of gambling receipts with the rest of the money going to casino operators. So if the state hopes to generate $1 billion, betters have to lose $5 billion, he said.

“That $5 billion is coming out of consumer products, it’s coming out of cars, refrigerators and computers and it’s even coming out of food, clothing and bank accounts.”

According to economic models, Illinois would generate nearly as much revenue through sales taxes alone if the money stayed in the state’s economy rather than funneling it to Las Vegas-based casino owners, Kindt said.

Studies also show casinos create $3 in social costs for every dollar the state collects because of increased gambling addiction, bankruptcies and crime, Kindt said.

Still, Kindt says lawmakers routinely turn to gambling for money to patch budget shortfalls.

“It’s a quick fix,” Kindt said. “And the gambling lobby is the strongest in the state, according to a University of Illinois at Springfield study. This is an amazingly powerful industry.”

Public hearings are scheduled this month on the gambling proposal along with a committee hearing in the House. The House voted to again outlaw casinos two years ago, but the measure was never called for a vote in the Senate.

“If they decide it on the economic and social facts, gambling will lose every time,” Kindt said.

Editor’s note: To reach John W. Kindt, call 217-433-0075.