Many states in America are facing budget shortfalls. Through either their own mismanagement, federally mandated programs or underestimation of taxation income, many states are trying to figure out how to keep the basic operations of state government going. Their options are not many; increasing the taxes on the people is one that many a politician abhors and they dislike the idea of cutting their own spending just about as much. Some, however, are turning to legalized gambling as an alternative.
Illinois is one such state. They have faced severe budget problems several times over the past two decades. Their introduction of a lottery helped and, in February 1990, the state became only the second in the U. S. that legalized riverboat gambling. Through the taxation that has come from that and authorized racetrack betting, the state government has hoped to help out their coffers.
When things begin to run short, Illinois has, in the past, discussed reforming the laws to add more casinos, allow slot machines at the racetracks, adding video machines in taverns and (dreaded by the gaming industry) raising gambling taxes. As it is in American government, if there is a political side to it, then there are lobbyists that are there to attempt to ply their influence in either direction.
A recent study done by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform recently pointed out how seriously the gaming industry takes the issue. Nearly $2 million dollars was donated to various Illinois politicians, including Governor Rod Blagojevich and various Senate and House leaders. The donators range from Harrah's to the Duchossois family, who have ownership at Arlington Race Track located in Arlington, IL.
The battles seem to be almost as vicious between the varied gaming interests as they do between the political parties in Springfield. The racetracks do not want the casinos to earn any breaks and vice versa. Thus, instead of presenting a united front and earning an endorsement for a comprehensive gaming bill, they continue to chip at each other and let the politicians decide who they want to like.
All in all, it looks like a long battle. If the budget stalemate continues, then the gaming interests have some leverage and can gain some ground in the state of Illinois. If the government finds a way to finance things without gaming (and those other vices that governments love to attack, alcohol and cigarettes), then their position is greatly reduced.
Rather than attached more laws and taxes on gambling, why doesn't Governor Blagojevich live in the Governor's Mansion in Springfield? It is common knowledge that the Governor refuses to live there, commuting daily at taxpayer expense from Chicago, where he lives and his daughter attends a private school. While paying these additional charges, the people of Illinois also have to pay for the upkeep of the governor's empty dwelling, for him to use for official state functions.
To view the full report from the ICPR, go to ilcampaign.org and view the report "Bet The Budget: Gambling and the End of Session." It will be interesting to see where everything lands in the Land of Lincoln.
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