I am not much of a gambler. I do run small businesses, but those are carefully built service and risk plans and are not at all similar to pulling the lever to see if I get a payout – like video gambling machines around town. And while I advocate wise financial choices, I don’t believe in unsolicited financial advice and would never tell anyone how to spend their hard-earned money.
However, it seems that our State would. Previously, I wrote about the Secure Choice Savings Plan that automatically enrolls employees into a privately-run investment fund. I believe a program that tells our citizens what to do with their money is an overreach of government. Each individual or family knows their financial situation and priorities better than the government and should be given the option to choose how to save or how to not save their money. What if that 3% taken from a paycheck meant the difference between paying or not paying for the utilities or mortgage this month? Our citizens realize that saving for retirement is important and didn’t need the state to tell them that.
The State also provides another way for unsuspecting citizens to spend their money: video game gambling. While it is not a forced expense by the State, we all know that it was legalized as yet another method to increase revenue. And for many of our area residents, it has become an addicting pastime. Here’s how I know that: in the City of Freeport alone, $50 million dollars were “played” in video game gambling, according to articles featured in both The Journal Standard and The Rockford Register Star, generating over $206,000 in tax revenue in 2014.
And by played, I mean wagered; let us not get confused by the softer, spin language. I have not yet figured out how to solve my internal struggle with the financial straits Illinois finds itself in, the interesting methods Illinois finds of creating tax revenue, and the presence of video gaming in our communities. Simply, I need your input.
My first point is that not all of the $50 million came from the pockets of Freeport citizens. I’m sure there were out-of-district dollars that stopped into Freeport to support our community and the businesses that have the video gambling machines. I don’t know what percentage of the $50 million pie comes from outside of town or out-of-state.
Secondly, I ask, is $206,027.38 enough money in returned tax revenue to justify $50 million gambled in 2014 within the Freeport city limits alone? As a percentage, tax revenue compared to gambled dollars Freeport only saw 0.4 percent returned home to our city.
Do you think that 0.4 percent is enough to justify the additional burden being placed on families destroyed from a gambling addiction? Is one family too many to sacrifice for the benefit of $206,000 in tax revenue? Sure, I’m talking about a hypothetical, and human nature says, “that won’t happen to me,” but I’ve heard from enough addicts during my time with the Sheriff’s department and I understand the life altering changes that occur from a serious addiction.
Alternatively, I ask this: with the fiscal crisis facing the State of Illinois, can we afford to turn away business and taxing opportunities? Someone out there is making money on gambling, someone out there is employing people and creating jobs for our community. I appreciate the risks of launching a business and I appreciate the customer base for frequenting those establishments. Money spent in our community is a good thing. Also, $50 million is a strong signal that our neighbors support and enjoy video gambling.
Finally, when the State of Illinois has to turn to gambling and selling drugs (medical marijuana) to fund our schools and fix our roads, do we have a bigger problem with the direction of our State? I see this as a simplified version of the recent laws passed, and there are pros and cons on each side, but I write today to tell you I’m having this internal struggle. Citizens enjoy spending their money on gambling; it is a financial risk and reward “game.” Now that we know $50 million nets the city $206,000 in tax revenue and comes with additional moral implications, is this worth it for us? There is much more than this column can address as it relates to the numbers; however you can check out the information yourself for your community in the 89th District at the Illinois Gaming Board at www.igb.illinois.gov click on Video Gaming and then click monthly reports by establishment or municipality.
This week’s topic reminds of a quote from Hunter S. Thompson: “there are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having FUN and being SMART.”