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April 14, 2005

Government and gambling: Watch that pea

The gambling games are fully afoot. Keep your eye on the pea, if you can.

In Springfield, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who used to be against any expansion of gambling, now wants to more than double the number of gambling "positions" available in the state.

First, Springfield.

Gov. Blagojevich figures the increase in gambling "positions" would raise $300 million, which he says would go to the schools, which really, really need it. He also says he's not really proposing an "expansion" of gambling since there would be no new casinos, just more slot machines and table games in already existing ones.

I'll leave it to the politicians to argue whether the governor has flip-flopped on the expansion issue. The bigger questions involve the $300 million revenue estimate and whether any of the money would benefit the schools.

Color me skeptical about both.

I don't haunt casinos all over the state, but I do visit the one in Rock Island now and then. I've never been there when there weren't plenty of slots available, ready and waiting for players. Looks to me like doubling the number would mostly just mean, well, a lot more slots ready and waiting for players.

As for any increase in gambling taxes benefitting the schools -- ha ha ha. That's a golden oldie. "Earmarking" money for the schools is pointless so long as the amount the schools get is greater than the earmarked source, and it always is.

An example, using little numbers: Say state aid to schools this year is $100. New gambling taxes, guaranteed to go to the schools, bring in $3. That does NOT mean school aid next year will be $103. The legislature will still decide how much the schools get out of the general revenue funds. Might be $103, but it also might be $97, or $80; in other words, the guaranteed $3 plus whatever else the legislature wants to kick in.

Watch that pea.

In Davenport, city fathers are looking for someone to "facilitate" public workshops on the future of that part of the downtown riverfront where the Isle of Capri wants to build a hotel. There's apparently going to be a series of workshops later this month, with a report due by May 13.

I was a bit confused about why we need to hire someone to gather public ideas on this topic. Couldn't city staffers handle the job?

City administrator Craig Malin explained that, in addition to the work requiring specialized "skill sets," an "outside perspective" could be helpful given the heated feelings on the Isle's proposal.

I'm also a bit confused about why Davenport hired someone to develop a counter-proposal to Isle of Capri's proposal to build the hotel, with a generous boost from we city taxpayers. Couldn't the council, with our legal department's assistance, handle this? Guess not.

Our counter-proposer, a lawyer named Lorraine May, is said to be making progress in talks with the Isle's lawyers, though nothing specific can be shared yet.

I'm hoping our counter-proposal says no new hotel unless the Isle of Capri shows how it's going to dispose of its existing hotel, the Black Hawk, without it costing the city anything or becoming a giant vacant, bleeding eyesore.

I'm also hoping our counter-proposal says no public money of any sort to IOC's expansion plans. IOC is a huge corporation minting money off it gambling licenses, here and elsewhere. It doesn't need taxpayer subsidies.

John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online. email: johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at April 14, 2005 01:59 PM

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