Facing a billion and change structural deficit in our state's 50-some billion dollar budget, Governor Blagojevich called for shorter lines and more places to gamble in our 10 licensed riverboat casinos. Nine are operating. Rosemont is fighting for the 10th license.
We're the only state with casinos that limit the number of slots and tables ('gaming positions' according to the Sun-Times account and the Governor's press release here). The proposal would be to double those positions. Apparently, there are lots of would-be gamblers waiting in line for the $5 blackjack table, and if there were more seats in the boats, then more suckers would hand their money over to the boat owners. At least there's a 70% marginal tax rate so the State gets a good chunk of the money -- but I'm sure those salaries and management expenses in the boats are fairly ridiculous, to show a smaller profit margin.
It's hard to get agitated over more seats in the same casino as an expansion of gambling. What's the difference if some senior citizen gets to throw their money away at a faster rate in the same casino instead of waiting in line to methodically drop one quarter at a time into a spinning, beeping machine? I guess there will be more money lost to the casino owners (and thus, more tax money for the schools), but it doesn't seem like a real expansion of gambling. A really crappy economic development strategy and a pretty solid way of impoverishing people who are bad at math, but not really an expansion of gambling. It's different than a new casino.
The accountablity and standards piece of the Gov's plan also sounds fairly solid (if not that big a deal -- see Rich Miller's piece on it here), but if he really wanted to 'rock the system', he'd try to challenge seniority-based teachers' contracts. Now *that* could help shake out some deadwood and get the burned out bureaucrats who are wasting our schoolkids' time out of the classrooms.
And one other *fantastic* part of the proposal: no new money for the horse racing industry. Those guys are unbelievably greedy. They currently get a direct grant from the state of something like $17 million every year -- just because the casinos create some competition for their tracks for gambling dollars. Well, boo hoo. Maybe we should start sending some money to every freaking restaurant in the State because casinos create competition for dining dollars as well. And maybe we should send money to every theatre company in the state because casinos create competition for entertainment dollars. If the horse racing guys get a dime out of this proposal, the Governor should veto it. (But knowing the Speaker, he's unlikely to call a gambling bill until the Governor makes a public commitment to accept the whole deal). So the game is on to ensure the horse racing guys, led by the Duchossois (Doo-sha-SCHAW . . . so very French) family, don't skim off any new school money.