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The Rostrum

Legalized gambling: predatory policy


Shame on you, people of Rockford. Given your civic-minded Yankee heritage, why have you provided an enduring political base for legalized gambling? The unhappy fact is that your repeatedly reelected representative to the General Assembly is most noteworthy for imposing legalized games of chance on the people of this state.

To make my point let me pick up on the last paragraph of an article by Ray Long and Peggy Boyer, "Gambling on Illinois riverboats. . .," in Illinois Issues (October 1989). Speaking of Rep. E.J. (Zeke) Giorgi, Democrat from Rockford (69th District), they write: "Giorgi, the father of the Illinois lottery and the gambling impresario most responsible for the seemingly relentless advancement of state-sponsored games of chance, knows it often takes more than one legislative roll of the dice before lawmakers hit the jackpot. 'Every time you put up an idea in the General Assembly — if it's a good idea —it will stay alive,' Giorgi said.'' Zeke's latest success is legalization of riverboat gambling.

I cannot find much civic good in state-sponsored gambling. What is bad about it? It produces no product, no new wealth, and so it makes no genuine contribution to economic development. It stimulates a great many people to make a series of small wagers. Most of them lose. A lot of revenue goes back to the few winners, a piece goes to the state (nominally to fund "good causes," like schools), and a big slice pays for administering the game and advertising to attract more losers.

Perhaps the biggest negative is that the state legitimizes the making of new gamblers. The state's slick television ads sustain hope among many, especially the poor, of a big hit, a jackpot, and then let the good times roll. Forget hard work. Saving is for suckers. Why sacrifice for the future when the future is now? And, like alcohol, widespread gambling reveals more and more people for whom it is an addiction. What a regressive way to serve the public.

The state's slick television ads sustain hope among many, especially the poor, of a big hit, a jackpot, and then let the good times roll. Forget hard work. Saving is for suckers

Zeke Giorgi has thrived in Illinois legislative politics to become the dean of the House, the member with the most continuous experience there. He is the lone surviving member still serving in the House since the unique 1964 election when all lawmakers were elected at large because redistricting had failed. In the legislative elections from 1966 to 1980 Zeke managed to play the cumulative voting system to win the minority party seat in the old 34th district. By 1981 Zeke was part of the Democratic party leadership and the beneficiary of Speaker Michael J. Madigan's redistricting skills. In 1982 and the elections since then, he has won his own electoral majority in Rockford's 69th District.

Zeke Giorgi followed the time-tested principle of legislative success — pick out a few subject areas and specialize. Stick with your bills, learn how to influence the committees where your bills go, trade your support for the other people's bills to get support for your own and, once you get laws into the books, keep adding to them. First you get "charitable" bingo, then extend horse racing days, legalize the lottery, enlarge the range of state-run games, test the possibilities for casino gambling, offer the prospect of dog tracks, implement off-track betting for horse races, enlarge the possibilities for big winnings at Lotto, up the ante via advertising, support proposals for riverboat gambling, sports betting, and so on.

Zeke Giorgi describes himself as a full-time legislator. Full-time legislators develop and push a legislative agenda. Zeke has done it like a professional. And now the state is as hooked on gambling as are many of its people. The fiscal year 1990 budget projected revenue from the lottery at $950 million for the year.

Pro that he is, Giorgi has always been direct and open about his promotion of legislation to legalize gambling. He has used every argument in the book to press the case, but the telling one is that it brings in revenue for the state that does not have to be raised by the hated "T" word: taxes.

Rockford. What an unlikely constituency for the career accomplishments of Zeke Giorgi. Long a Republican stronghold, it was often marked by competition between progressives and conservatives. Rockford has been pointed out by political scientists as a noteworthy example of a moralistic

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political culture, which combined the Yankee work ethic with a Scandinavian concern for community good. In the moralistic society political practitioners are expected to exercise power for the betterment of the people, the enrichment of community life and the reduction of individual gain at the expense of the weak. Conflict is issue oriented. Citizen participation is high. Government is seen as a positive instrument to meet the needs of the impoverished, to protect the ignorant and imprudent from exploitation and to add virtue to human relationships. One's engagement in politics is a response to citizen duty. It is not necessary to be a professional; indeed, amateurism is a virtue. So is party irregularity. For an officeholder to part ways with his party or his leaders and to risk his career for principles is to fulfill the highest challenge of the moralistic community. Such a Rockford moralist was U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson, progressive challenger to Ronald Reagan and independent candidate for president in 1980.

Now, of course, Rockford is more culturally diverse and includes a sturdy Italian contingent and a small proportion of blacks that vote mostly for Democrats. Rockford's moralistic community concern seems to endure. It was provoked in 1983 to abandon home-rule status so that local tax increases would be subject to citizen determination by referendum. With little national notice and no apparent racial overtones Rockford voters elevated a black candidate to the office of mayor in 1989.

Sadly, Illinois is now into the gambling addiction big time. I don't know how Zeke Giorgi got away with it all these years. I wish that the moralists of Rockford had cut off Giorgi's success at gambling legislation long ago. Obviously, however, Zeke did not work alone. Majorities passed those bills in both houses of the General Assembly and governors elected with statewide majorities signed them and put them into effect. Shame on all of us Illinoisans who in principle oppose predatory government yet allow our state to prey on its poor people through legalized gambling.

Jack R. Van Der Slik is director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center, Sangamon State University. He is co-author of Lawmaking in Illinois.

March 1990/Illinois Issues/31

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