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Wayne's Words: Time to wean off gaming

Wayne Horne | 5/31/2018, 6 a.m.
The summer of 2018 officially began with the Memorial Day weekend and is on the books. Proper complaints against the ...

The summer of 2018 officially began with the Memorial Day weekend and is on the books. Proper complaints against the weather can now begin with “it’s too hot” in place of “it’s too cold.” Just as the summer is beginning the Illinois Spring legislative session ends this week on Thursday. Expanding gambling is again up for discussion in the legislature.

Opposition to any new gaming positions is quite strong among those who believe any expansion of gaming only diminishes existing gambling operations. Senator Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, disagrees. He was quoted as saying: “They build new casinos next door to one another in Vegas, and none of them are going out of business.” He may have a point regarding Las Vegas but it hasn’t panned out in Illinois over the last 10 years.

In 2011, before video gaming spots were legalized for locations outside the state’s 10 casino sites, the State of Illinois’ share of gaming receipts for the year was $400.8 million. The revenue had peaked in 2007 at $718.2 million. Then in 2012 video gaming was introduced in September. Only $3.1 million was produced in the four remaining months of 2012. The next year the State’s share of revenue jumped to over $75 million from video gaming and more than doubled that to $164.9 million by 2014.

Casino revenue has never recovered from its peak in 2007. Last year casino revenue declined for the fourth straight year but the video gaming revenue brought the state’s share of gaming revenue to just over what it was 10 years ago, $719.1 million. The revenue numbers seem to confirm what conventional wisdom predicted. Gambling is not the answer to the State of Illinois revenue woes.

By contrast, the City of Joliet has seen an almost 50 percent decline in gaming revenues since 2007, including the video gaming. What’s more, Joliet has actually reversed its fortunes and is on a path of increased revenues from all other sources and is actually in better financial shape than it was 10 years ago. Joliet still has financial issues like pensions and infrastructure like most of the rest of Illinois. But weaning the community off gaming revenue, even though it was forced to do so, is a positive maybe the State could learn from.

Speaking of the weather and revenue, it appears the costly repairs and upgrades to newly-named Joliet Route 66 Stadium hasn’t helped the Slammers attendance. After nine games the average attendance is 1,803 per game. The Slammers rank seventh in attendance this year as of May 28.

The league attendance average is 1,847. Over the previous seven years the Slammers have a combined game attendance average of 2,085. The Stadium capacity for baseball is 6,016. The City has spent millions to repair and upgrade the facility since 2011 for the slightly over 700,000 fans that have seen the Slammers play.

One last thing… a recent Wayne’s Words column was about the possible expansion of the Veterans Choice Program that allows veterans to utilize private sector health care providers. A veteran may use non-VA providers if the VA facility is more than 40 miles distant or the veteran cannot secure an appointment within 30 days. Congress approved the expansion the week before Memorial Day and it awaits the President’s approval.

By providing adequate funding for the program it is making possible more timely payments to non-VA providers. It does not assure a better quality of health care for veterans however. A recent RAND Corp. study questions whether private doctors are prepared to treat veterans. The study was highlighted in the June/July issue of VFW Magazine. According to the study’s findings there are “significant gaps and variations in the readiness of community-based health care providers to provide high-quality care to veterans.”

The study was based on a survey of 746 health care providers in New York who are members of the VA Community Care network. wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com

Stay tuned…