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January 13, 2006

Flip-flop -- Blago now a more-gambling fan

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to allow keno machines in bars and restaurants is a terrible idea that, if approved by the Legislature, will substantially increase the number of lives destroyed by state-sanctioned gambling.

The proposal also is a 180-degree flip from the governor's many earlier declarations that he's opposed on an expansion of gambling. When the subject came up in 2003, in the form of a proposal to allow video poker machines in bars, he denounced it and said video poker is the "crack cocaine" of gambling.

There's no substantial difference between video keno and video poker -- both are extremely fast games played on machines that can have a mesmerizing effect on players. Putting them in bars and restaurants will ensnare a good many people who otherwise wouldn't be gambling.

Got nothing against gambling, understand. I hit the casinos occasionally, play a little blackjack. But making the "crack cocaine of gambling" available everywhere is unconscionable.

In 2003, I suggested that the drug analogy used by the governor should be carried a step further -- that "the difference between allowing a handful of casinos to operate around the state and permitting video poker machines in every neighborhood bar is about the same as the difference between allowing possession of marijuana for personal use and posting state agents on every street corner to hawk dime joints to passers-by."

The governor was right in 2003. He's wrong now.

Gov. Blagojevich's flipflop is, of course, driven by election-year politics. He wants to use the money from expanded gambling to finance his own version of former Gov. George Ryan's "Illinois First" program. If the Legislature goes along with him, he'll be able to spend the months before the election swooping into community after community to announce that the state's going to be paying for some local project, many of which are needed. Best of all, he'll proclaim, there'll be no tax increase needed to pay for them. He won't mention the ruined lives and destroyed families that will be true measure of the cost.

Speaking of swooping in to announce the state's paying for locally desired project ... the governor swooped into the Quad-Cities and several other places on Tuesday to do just that. Here, the announcement was that $2.4 million was coming to further Western Illinois University's plans for a riverfront campus in Moline.

'course, everyone already knew the news. A press release went out Monday morning. The story was posted on Quad-Cities Online's homepage about 11 a.m. It was on all the other electronic media here throughout the afternoon and evening, and was on the front pages of the local newspapers Tuesday morning.

So why did the governor feel it was necessary to fly here and to the other places he visited Tuesday on similar announce-the-old-news missions? Well, it is an election year and the announce-it-today, visit-tomorrow strategy guarantees at least two days worth of media coverage, with the second day sure to feature pictures of the ever-beneficiant governor in a local setting.

It's campaign stuff, pure and simple.

Back to gambling -- I'll give you 100-1 odds that the state, not the gov's ever-so-fat campaign fund, is picking up the cost of that Tuesday trip.

Posted by jcb at January 13, 2006 09:03 AM


An update: Shortly after I wrote the above, stories about ties between Blagojevich and people who might profit from the keno proposal surfaced. There's a rundown on this string on Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.

Posted by: jcb at January 13, 2006 12:49 PM