To reiterate my well known stance, please let me clearly state that I firmly believe legalized gambling is never the answer. Whatever revenue that endeavor may generate is utterly outstripped by the ensuing social damage.
The thing is, just like my fine furry coyote friends, Illinois casinos aren’t going anywhere so there’s no point in arguing about it anymore.
So since gambling ain’t going anywhere, it may as well be in the form of Elgin’s Grand Victoria because the boat’s owners, the Pritzker family, automatically recycle 20 percent of their profits right back into the community.
But things aren’t looking too rosy for the grande dame of gambling vessels these days. As DH reporter Elena Ferrarin just pointed out, Elgin’s almost always predictable casino cut just took an entirely unexpected 20 percent hit to the point they’re looking at a $1.8 million budgetary shortfall.
That ain’t chump change.
And this piece in today’s Tribune explains the specific reason for this fiscal failing are those “grandma casinos” that are popping up all over suburbia. Briefly, under the guise of serving food and sometimes alcohol, these “gambling cafés” install the legal maximum five video gaming machines which bring in 80 percent of their profit.
They’re the result of a sloppily written state law, they don’t have to exclude problem gamblers, they don’t have to monitor inebriated patrons, and, unlike the boats, the bulk of their revenue goes to Springfield and out-of-state corporate owners.
Right now, Illinois is seeing this scourge expand at the exponential rate of 800 licenses per month. Should this trend be allowed to continue, it will mean the end of the Grand Victoria and every other similar venue.
Of course, without the appropriate “incentive,” nothing will change because, again, it’s the State of Illinois that’s reaping this new revenue windfall and they need all the cash they can get their grubby little hands on.
So in an effort to save the boat, here’s what I believe is about to happen:
1. No more free banquet hall.
Most of you don’t realize that, upon request, the Grand Victoria will not only provide free space for your charitable fundraiser, but they’ll cater the food at no cost too. And the folks who love to rely on this particular largesse tend to be area aldermen promoting their favorite cause.
But more often than not, these are the very same city councilmen who voted in favor of the very video gambling that’s killing off that casino. So I’m guessing they’re about to be cut off from the banquet room and that’s exactly the way it should be because politics ain’t a game for sissies.
2. The Pritzkers will sell the boat.
One of the reasons the Pritizker family has more money than God ($30 billion) is because they have an amazing collective business sense. They know exactly when to purchase and turn around a distressed enterprise and when it’s time to cut one loose.
With the grandma casino handwriting on the wall, I’d bet my bottom dollar they’re getting ready to bail out of the Illinois casino biz while they can still get something for the boat. And I’d also be willing to hazard a guess that the new owner(s) won’t be nearly as altruistic as the current ones.
So while Elgin’s ever declining five percent cut is statutorily guaranteed, those local social services agencies and the Kane County Board won’t be so lucky. Within one short year, they may face the real prospect of kissing that $6 and $4 million, respectively, goodbye.
And that ain’t chump change either. How many times have riverboat funds saved the county’s budget behind.
So here are my two thoughts:
1. Every social service agency and worthy cause that depends on those Grand Victoria Foundation Grants, and that list is a long one, needs to start letting their state legislators know just how much that money means to them. Then they need to call their local aldermen and explain the havoc those expanding gambling cafés are about to wreak.
Because even if the Pritzkers stay in the game, the casino industry simply cannot weather this storm.
2. The first thing the Kane County Board should do is outlaw grandma casinos in the unincorporated areas. And they should do this purely on principle because virtually none of that money comes back to the county.
Then, if the board wants to be able to continue to rely on the Pritzker’s generosity, each and every one of them should start calling the local state reps and insist that they fix their mistake by greatly limiting the spread of and heavily regulating this mini-casino plague.
The fact that these grandma casinos got a license this year doesn’t necessarily mean they should get one in the future. C’mon! Why do they get to play by different rules?
Could I be wrong about this? That’s always a possibility. But I wouldn’t bet on it!