The hidden cost of easy access gambling: Record revenues have ramifications

November 28, 2018

Access and addiction go hand in hand.

Some addicts go to great lengths to satisfy their cravings. A heroin user who enters a seedy area to obtain the drug is an example.

The gambling addict once had to make a special effort to make a wager, at least a legal one. Illinois has had a handful of riverboat casinos scattered about the state since legal betting became the law in the mid-1970s. They had little or no competition for a long time.

But for the last six years, the opportunity has been available at the corner pub, gas station or laundry mat. For the dependent gambler, a half hour drive has been replaced by a short walk.

This clearly is a critical factor behind a record rise in gambling revenue for Illinois, an increase directly attributed to huge profits made off the video gaming machines that are most popular at neighborhood hangouts.

A recent report by the Illinois Commission on Forecasting and Accountability shows the state realized net income of $1.4 billion in video gaming receipts for the fiscal year ending June 30. That figure generated $70 million in tax revenue for local governments.

What the report doesn’t include is the corresponding cost to the consumer. Nonetheless, let’s state the obvious.

Those revenues come at the expense of plenty of people who have developed a behavioral illness and are blowing the rent money for another push of the button. They hope one more attempt will bring a jackpot, but it most often digs a yet deeper hole.

Speaking of access, it might just be time to increase access to gambling problem hotlines and other treatment services. The report might not say that either, but it’s another obvious point.

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