Change is coming to Illinois — a higher minimum wage first, soon to be followed by the legalization of marijuana.

Then there is sports gambling, which is an option due to a ruling last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition to action in many of the 50 states, federal legislation may be forthcoming.

Illinois, of course, is already up to its neck in legalized gambling that includes casinos, video gambling, the lottery and race tracks. Those activities generate substantial income, but not as much as some predicted. Further, it seems that placing video-gambling parlors on virtually every street corner is diminishing the amount of gambling that once was done at the state's 10 casinos.

Sports betting would be a whole new wrinkle on the gambling front, a government-overseen entertainment that would replace an illegal underground marketplace.

A recent study indicates that legalized gambling in Illinois would generate $12 billion in wagers, create 2,500 jobs and generate up to $100 million in tax revenue.

The authors of the study have their reasons for making that assessment.

But one ought to be careful about embracing predictions on a practice that is still a gleam in the eye of the revenue-hungry Gov. J.B. Pritzker and members of the General Assembly.

Further, it's important not to get caught up in the rush to pass legislation.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruling, gambling hustlers have been urging legislators in Illinois and other states to be among the first to pass legislation allowing sports gambling.

The theory is that those who strike first will reap the largest rewards.

There is merit to swift action, but not at the expense of making careful and thoughtful decisions about what's to be done.

Legislation authorizing casino gambling was rushed to passage, as was that creating the video-gambling frenzy. In retrospect, it looks as though state officials would have been better served to adopt a more deliberate and careful approach.

Instead, they acted in haste, and, as various reports have suggested, now repent in leisure.

The state has, historically, had a hard time passing gambling legislation because it turns into a scrum of conflicting interests, all of whom are looking to get rich at the others' expense.

Further, those who gained gambling privileges in one round of legislation — take the casino owners — vigorously resist proposals for new venues that would compete with their existing venues.

Does anyone think that the owners of casinos in Joliet and Des Plaines want to see another casino — or two or three — in Chicago? Absolutely not, and they're willing to spread plenty of money around in campaign donations or other forms of remuneration to see that it doesn't happen.

Adding sports betting to the gambling field ensures a major conflagration. But the impending battle will be less about the specifics of operations than it will be about who makes the big money from this new business.

Illinois is a huge state that has the capacity to make sports-book owners a whole lot of money. But which ones will it be? And what will the cost of the entry fee for those competing for the privilege of taking gamblers' money?

Ten states already have legalized sports gambling, none of them in the Midwest.

If Illinois follows, it will be a game-changer in terms of social mores, one not necessarily for the better. People will just have to wait and see what follows.

But don't buy the hype that another expansion of gambling will represent some kind of financial panacea for our financially challenged state.

Legal gambling generates revenue, but it also generates costs, including a fraying of the social fabric of society. After all, everyone can't be a winner.


The (Champaign) News-Gazette