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Privatizing the Lottery Is Bad Luck for Gamblers

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Privatizing the Lottery Is Bad Luck for Gamblers

Gov. Quinn is looking to lease the Illinois Lottery to a private company, a deal that could add $1 billion to the state’s coffers -- but that’s actually going to be a terrible deal for Illinois gamblers.

The lottery is already the worst form of gambling known to man. The average state lottery pays back only half the money it takes in. Compare that to slot machines, which pay out between 95 and 99 percent of a gambler’s money, or blackjack, where the house edge is 7 percent. Even horse racing, with its 20 percent take, is vastly more generous than the lottery.

And if a profit-driven company gets hold of the lottery? That’s going to be another entity that wants a share of the gambler’s dollar. When the private sector gets involved in public business, the public always gets screwed. Just look at how much rates increased at Chicago parking meters, or on the Skyway.

If Quinn really wants to do gamblers a favor (although I’m not sure he does), he’d promote more generous forms of gambling in Illinois. For example:

Sports Betting
Since Congress banned Internet gambling in 2006, it’s almost impossible to get a bet down on a game. I wanted to bet Michigan State +1½ versus Butler on Saturday, but I couldn’t find Big John, the only bookie I know. So I wasn’t able to lose money on the Spartans. In England, bookie joints are as common as 7-Elevens are here. If the state could open a set of bucket shops, it could rake in all sorts of unprofitable bets on the Cubs, the Bears and the Bulls. The pro leagues would complain that gambling was tainting their sports -- then go back to selling the NFL Sunday package to fantasy football owners who want to keep track of all their players. The problem here: we’d have to change the federal law banning states from the bookie business.

Slots at Racetracks
The racetracks have been begging for slots for years, and they have a point. At one time, racetracks had a monopoly on legal gambling. There was no lottery, no casinos, no video poker. Then, suddenly, they had to compete for gambling dollars, while still feeding the horses and paying the jockeys. This year, Rep. Will Burns (D-Chicago) introduced a bill that would place slot machines in race tracks and use the money to fund capital projects.

A Casino in Chicago
I know a guy who claims he makes his living as a poker player, and he’s enough of a weasel that I believe him. He lives in Lake View, and every night drives to the boats in Indiana, just across the city limits. Sure, Illinois has riverboats, but the local casinos are in Elgin, Joliet and Aurora -- too far for Chicago gamblers. We have three rivers in Chicago. Put a boat on one of them.

More OTBs
You shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to bet on a horse race. Why not put a TV and a betting machine in every currency exchange in Illinois? Most OTBs are as charming as currency exchanges, and attract the same type of people, so there’s a synergy here.

Do all that, and you’ll not only raise more than a billion dollars, you’ll also keep more money in gamblers’ pockets, so they can keep gambling.

After all: ottery winners don't spend all their money on more lottery tickets. They waste it on sports cars, mansions, booze and divorce.

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