The Illinois General Assembly last year legalized video poker machines in an effort to raise $200 – 300 million to fund a construction bill that would build schools and fix roads. I think I’ve heard that “gambling will fund education” line before and we’ve all see how well that has worked out for Illinois schools’ budgets.
First, the idea that Illinois would raise that type of cash is ludicrous to say the least. Before the legalization, just about every bar paid out on their Cherry Master machines so gambling outside of casinos is nothing new. Every once and awhile, the Gaming Commission or the Illinois Revenue Service would do a raid and fine a bar for paying out on their machines – but everyone still paid out regardless of or the possibility of the raids. I remember telling a state legislator (who voted against the legalization) that the cash they hoped to raise was a farce because of what I have seen through personal experience where I work. Before the economic collapse, there would be truck drivers lined up waiting to play the Cherry Masters. So much so that the tavern added another machine. After the economic collapse, you would have had no problem finding a machine to play. In fact, you might have been the only one playing those machines all week. You see, disposable income went out the door for many truck drivers, and other drivers were laid off because of the economy. This lack of people playing the machines is happening elsewhere as well, so how Illinois expected to raise up to $300 million is beyond me.
Second, the video poker legalization is typical of Illinois and government in general. God forbid someone make a dollar in this state without Illinois taking their “fair” share. Just like how the state raided a number of taverns for having Super Bowl boards. If the state can’t get a cut, they don’t want it at all. Furthermore, like it or not, Cherry Master machines helped keep some businesses in business. Now, the Cherry Masters are gone from just about everywhere and the new “state controlled” video poker machines may not even be installed until October this year. Times were already tough after the smoking ban, then the economy hits, and then the General Assembly takes away a decent source of revenue. What about the revenues lost by the businesses that service, own and rent out those Cherry Masters. How many jobs have been or will be lost because of video poker legalization? I know of at least one company that is laying off their workers and may even have to shut their doors at some point. This is also a business that is active in my community through sponsorship of Little League teams and the like. That silly law of unintended consequences always seems to rear its ugly head, doesn’t it.
Finally, the General Assembly include a provision that counties, municipalities, or townships could opt out of the video poker scam and ban the machines out right. There is a growing number of localities that have done just that. Some have done it to protect their casinos and others have done it because of the social ills that follow with gambling. So those localities are free and in the clear, right? Oh no, not when the state of Illinois needs and wants money…
Take a look what some members of the Illinois General Assembly have in store for those that have opted out. HB 5313 reads:
Amends the Video Gaming Act. Provides that, if a municipality or county prohibits video gaming pursuant to the Act, then the Board, with the cooperation of the Department of Revenue, shall impose a monthly surcharge in an amount determined by the Board that the municipality or county would have been contributing under the Act had the municipality or county not prohibited video gaming, which shall be based on the maximum amount of machines that may be located within the municipality or county. Provides that, if a municipality or county fails to remit the surcharge, then the amount of the monthly surcharge shall be deducted from any amounts certified to be allocated to the municipality or county from the Local Government Distributive Fund in the next consecutive monthly allocation. Makes conforming changes in the State Revenue Sharing Act. Amends the State Mandates Act to require implementation without reimbursement. Effective immediately.
Well then. So basically you’ll have to allow video poker or else lose funds or pay a fine. Seems like a scene from a mafia movie – if you don’t pay some protection money, something bad might happen. Likewise, you’ll pay Illinois what they want, otherwise, something bad might happen. Nothing like Mike Madigan and his boys riding roughshod over the people, local government, and businesses of Illinois.
This whole thing is indicative of how the current Illinois government has a complete and utter disdain for business and the people in this state. We are looked at nothing more than a cash cow for their runaway spending and for funding political favors to their favorite lobbies. Meanwhile, Illinois sits at 11.1% unemployment (most likely close to 15% unofficially) and the budget is just over $12 billion in the hole. Instead of trying to make Illinois as business friendly as possible, we find ourselves losing businesses and jobs. Just ask Chicago how that unfriendly business climate is working out. Maybe we should consider changing our state’s name from Illinois to South Michigan, Chicago could be renamed West Detroit, and the state motto could be “You make it, we’ll tax it, and we’ll spend it”.