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Jackpot or Craps, The Catch 22 of a Chicago Casino

Thu, Jul 7, 2011

I am going to say right at the start that I do not have a clear position on whether or not it is a good thing for Chicago to get a casino. I certainly do not want to be complicit in a decision that would allow the vulnerable among us to cause themselves harm. However, I also do not subscribe to the belief that everything we do as a society should be predicated on the notion that we must protect people from themselves. As this week’s edition of StreetWise describes, there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue regarding whether or not a Chicago casino would serve the greater good.

Having spent a significant part of my career making decisions on how social services in Chicago are funded, I can tell you that I am interested in exploring any option that will bring desperately needed money to the city’s most important support services. The status of most agencies within this city’s non-profit sector is grim. Government funding cuts coupled with a reduction in charitable giving has put the work of these vital agencies into serious jeopardy. Without a new and dedicated funding stream Chicago’s social service system will continue to be battered by the winds of financial insecurity. Nonetheless, a quick review of some of the research done on the harmful effects of gambling shows that in this case the cure may be worse than the ailment. It is hard to believe that anti-gambling advocates are exaggerating the risks of gambling when you are faced with true stories of men and women who have ruined their own life and the lives of their families at a betting table. Without going into all of the statistics, the concern in its simplest form is this, “will casino gambling in Chicago create more people in need of social services than currently exist?” The fear is that, under the guise of helping people in need by providing much needed funding, casino gambling will actually exacerbate the limited resources of the city’s social service agencies by flooding the system with an influx of people who have been thrust into crisis because of their gambling losses.

At this time I have not yet come down on side of the issue or the other. I intend to keep reading, keep listening, and keep learning. If you are also undecided I hope you will do the same. If you have made up your mind feel free to share your reasoning with me and the StreetWise Magazine staff. You can email us, or you can post your thoughts on the StreetWise website or on our Facebook page.

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on the work StreetWise does and on how to improve our services. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or 773-334-6600 (ext. 18).

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director


One Response to “Jackpot or Craps, The Catch 22 of a Chicago Casino”

  1. Andrea Baker says:

    The question of a casino in Chicago is certainly multifaceted. Although I am originally from the Chicago suburbs, the past two years I have lived in a post-industrial town called Anderson, Indiana working at a men’s homeless shelter/community kitchen/community assistance center called The Christian Center. I also volunteer as a board member for a community program called The Shadeland Project which includes an after school program, bicycle collective, and other community outreach activities.

    One thing that I can say positively is that having the casino (Hoosier Park) in this town has helped all of the organizations I work with. From $5,000 for a new roof to fixing a $2,000 truck repair to granting financial assistance with a reading corner and even supplying their own workers to help build it, their partnership has been an amazing asset to our community. One of the benefits we have, however, is that because of the large space it takes up, the casino is quite a distance from our downtown area where we provide most of our services. I see my clients frequently outside of work, but have never seen one at the casino in the handful of times I have visited. Statistically, I can’t say the number of clients for whom this would create an exacerbation of issues, but I can say that it has been a financial benefit and that I have personally not seen an increase in clients citing gambling as one of their contributors to homelessness/poverty (more commonly it is mental disorders, drug usage (including prescriptions), alcoholism, and lack of education/opportunities for uneducated labor.

    I will be interested to see how this turns out for Chicago should they proceed, and to see if there will be correlative data regarding the effects on the community.

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