More than 60 percent of Illinois residents support a gaming solution that includes more casinos and the addition of slot machines at racetracks as a solution to create more than 20,000 jobs and generate nearly $200 million annually for the state, a newly released poll reveals.
Most Illinoisans support the gambling expansion bill Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed this year -- at least according to a poll taken on behalf of the people who would most benefit from more gambling in Illinois.
The poll was conducted for the Illinois Revenue & Jobs Alliance, which describes itself as “a growing statewide consortium of labor organizations, business groups, farming and agribusiness interests, racetracks and horsemen associations, and local municipalities committed to the passage of SB 1849 which calls for the expansion of gaming in Illinois, including slot machines at racetracks.”
Every Illinois racetrack and every horseman’s association is represented on the roster.
Public Opinion Strategies, a Virginia polling firm, asked 800 voters whether they would “support or oppose a proposal to generate revenues to state and local governments by increasing the number of slot machines allowed at riverboats, allowing slot machines at racetracks, and by adding a land-based Chicago casino and four additional riverboat casinos.”
That’s a cleverly worded question, because it starts by asking people whether they support or oppose government revenue. Not surprisingly, it produced the desired result: 62 percent said yes, while 33 percent said no.
“Illinoisans are sending a loud and clear message that they strongly support gaming legislation that will bring sorely needed economic benefits throughout the state during these challenging budget times,” said Illinois Revenue & Jobs Alliance Chairman Bill Black, who retired from the General Assembly last year after 24 years as a state representative from Danville. “They have no appetite for lawmakers raising taxes or cutting essential programs like education, health care and safety net services that impact our most vulnerable residents. This legislation is an attractive solution that comes at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.”
Asked whether they would support subsidizing racetracks rather than allowing them to install slots, 76 percent said no, while 16 percent said yes.
Support for SB 1849 is highest in the Collar Counties where 70 percent of respondents favor the proposal, but support is strong throughout Illinois: 68 percent in favor in Northern Illinois; 61 percent in favor in Southern Illinois; 60 percent in favor in Cook County; and 54 percent in favor in Central Illinois.
The most popular components of SB 1849 were increasing the number of slot machines at existing riverboats (69 percent) and allowing slot machines at the state’s six horse racing tracks (68 percent). Meanwhile, 64 percent favor authorizing four new casinos in Danville, Lake County, Rockford and the south suburbs and 62 percent support authorizing a land-based casino in Chicago.
The same organization commissioned a study claiming that gambling expansion will generate $200 million a year in tax revenue and create 20,500 jobs. As one skeptic wrote on the Belleville News-Democrat’s website, “I don’t have a problem with gambling, but don’t urinate on my neck and tell me it's raining. Those jobs and taxes come at the expense of other businesses. It has been shown repeatedly that once gambling is legalized it sucks up disposable income from the community and hurts local businesses.”
It’s no surprise that a majority of Illinoisans support gambling expansion. A majority of their legislators voted for it last year. The racetracks are now lobbying a constituency of one: Gov. Pat Quinn. These numbers are no more likely to persuade him than legislators, or Mayor Rahm Emanuel, were.