Kadner: Illinois should place bet on Internet poker’s future
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 May 17, 2012 10:26PM
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:42AM
State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) wants Illinois to become the first state in the nation to legalize online poker.
Earlier this week, Cullerton announced he would introduce a bill creating a Division of Internet Gaming within the state lottery.
I’ve been critical of the Legislature, particularly its leaders, when it comes to some of the draconian cuts proposed in social programs and a potential shift in teacher pension funding from the state to local school districts.
But when a lawmaker makes a proposal that makes sense, I’m willing to say it deserves a hard look.
Online poker sites based offshore were shut down several years ago by the federal government. Millions of Americans were playing on those sites, and billions were being wagered throughout the world.
Illinois has roughly $83 billion in unpaid pension liability, faces a structural budget deficit of billions of dollars and there’s a proposal to cut the education budget by $250 million. Given such financial problems, it makes sense to me to look at new ways of raising money.
“The state could organize the first major poker pool, garner worldwide popularity and position itself as a ‘hub’ for multistate and international iGaming,” Cullerton wrote in a letter to the governor and other legislative leaders.
A spokesman for Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said the House speaker would take a look at the proposal.
Republican leaders said the state needs to focus on cutting Medicaid funding for the poor and pension reform.
When a casino expansion bill was discussed this week, Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff also indicated he doesn’t want the Legislature to lose sight of the need for Medicaid and pension reform.
I understand the need to do that. I also understand that this state, even if it shaves billions of dollars from those programs, is still going to be in big financial trouble.
Social service agencies that help the poor, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled are all facing budget cuts. The state owes millions of dollars to school districts and vendors.
And that’s with the largest income tax hike (67 percent) in Illinois history, which is set to expire in 2015.
Cullerton’s idea makes sense, but because it does I doubt it has a chance of being passed by the General Assembly or signed into law by Quinn.
This is an innovative idea, a fresh approach to the gambling debate. And it acknowledges the reality that many people simply enjoy playing poker on the Internet.
I would not only advocate for online poker but for sports gambling. I don’t understand why the government forbids gambling on sporting events.
Sure, professional sports leagues oppose the idea, but millions of people wager illegally on those games every day. Look around the office, and you’ll find more than one person who knows a bookie.
So what the government is basically saying is that it supports a wonderful revenue stream for organized crime.
It’s the same sort of whacky thinking that allows the illegal marijuana trade to grow — corrupting governments throughout the world while filling our prisons with people who could be earning an honest living and paying taxes.
Those who argue about the immorality of gambling don’t seem to notice that governments are making millions of dollars off the sale of cigarettes and liquor.
They also turn a blind eye to the realities of the social condition.
Property tax bills are forcing people out of their homes. Local governments are being forced to cut their budgets and vital services to the community.
Cuts in government payrolls mean more people on unemployment and fewer people paying taxes. Food pantries have seen their client base triple in the last year as their state aid has been cut.
I’m not saying Internet gambling is a cure-all. It’s just a piece of the solution that needs to be looked at.
And iGambling is the wave of the future.
The notion that legislators can’t consider new revenue streams while making pension and Medicaid cuts seems ludicrous to me.
As for the moral argument, I’ve watched Oak Forest Hospital close without howls of protest about the morality of denying health care to the poor.
And Tinley Park Mental Health Center, the only hospital in the Southland providing psychiatric care to those without Medicaid, is about to close with hardly a peep from the anti-gambling crowd.
Now the state is prepared to cut Medicaid spending for the poor, and that’s being hailed as a landmark achievement.
I fail to see the morality in any of that.
I would like to hear your point of view. Should Illinois consider this idea or sit on the sidelines as other states take the lead?