Video Poker: A Bad Bet for Illinois

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In my career as a legislator, I have faced many challenges. No issue that is so pervasive, so detrimental to society, yet so mainstream, has presented as difficult a challenge as gambling.

I've always opposed gambling expansion based on its social consequences. People are not expendable because the price seems right. Many gamblers fall into problem or addictive gambling, resulting in divorce, debt, isolation and depression. These are not the kind of statistics I want to see for the people of Illinois. Gambling has no positive impact on society, and no family torn apart, child going hungry or destruction of life is worth the cost of an unstable revenue increase.

I simply refuse to believe that our state cannot resolve its budget woes with responsible solutions that will yield long-term improvements rather than extensive consequences. In that vein, I filed House Bill 4629, a bill written to repeal the Video Gaming Act, which allows establishments licensed to serve alcohol to have up to five video poker machines for patron use -- the equivalent of 60 new casinos in Illinois.

The largest expansion of gambling in the history of our state is irresponsible. The Video Gaming Act is fraught with problems, opening the door for potential fraud, corruption and mismanagement -- all qualities of Illinois state government legislators have been trying to change since impeaching former-Governor Rod Blagojevich. Members of the Gaming Board are apprehensive about this gambling expansion because they know they don't have the resources or manpower to police it. They were not given any monies to implement or oversee this expansion. As a result, we face the real possibility of illegal influences over these machines.

The legislation creating the Video Gaming Act was rushed through the General Assembly in only two days. As a result, legislators were not given the opportunity to discuss this important issue with their constituents, on whose behalf they cast their votes. Illinois citizens are the people who will be most affected by this expansion, and they should be given the right to weigh in on it.

I filed legislation to give voters the opportunity to voice their support for or opposition of gambling. House Bill 4641 will place a referendum related to gambling expansion on the statewide ballot in the February primary elections. Listening to the people we serve is the prudent and responsible thing to do.

The only positive outcome I have seen from the passage of the Video Gaming Act is that the issue of gambling has been opened for a full debate. This is an issue that needs to be discussed. Gambling proponents argue that because we already allow amusement-only machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state, we may as well make money on them. I have never bought into this argument and believe we should get rid of those machines. I filed House Bill 4645 to eliminate amusement-only machines and put an end to all forms of gambling in corner bars throughout our neighborhoods.

Right now, our state is at a crossroads. We need to do the right thing. We need to listen to what our constituents want before we make this decision.