Steve Chapman

If legal wagering doesn't lead to El Dorado, the mythical land of gold, it also doesn't descend into the inferno. Groups like Stop Predatory Gambling depict casinos and racetracks as demonic agents spreading social disaster. They aren't.

Crime? It tends to rise in a city when casinos arrive -- but only because there are more people around. "Typically, when tourists are considered in the crime rate, any effect of casinos on crime diminishes or disappears," notes Douglas M. Walker, an economist at the College of Charleston.

Suicide and family breakup? Nevada has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country -- but New Jersey, longtime gambling mecca of the Northeast, has the lowest. A 2004 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies looked at places after they introduced casinos and found "no widespread, statistically significant increases in either suicide or divorce."

Visits to casinos may cause a small increase in personal bankruptcies, according to a study by Thomas Garrett of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Mark Nichols of the University of Nevada at Reno. But that's not grounds for grave concern in this instance. Given the numerous establishments already available to Illinoisans, they may not hit the tables any more often once they have more casinos.

In the end, permitting more gambling is a good thing because it accommodates the desires of ordinary people. Millions of Americans happily patronize casinos and racetracks each year, and there is no good reason for governments to stand in their way.

But anyone who expects a major impact, good or bad, from the proposed expansion is going to be surprised. This measure is not the equivalent of betting the house. It's dollar-ante poker.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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