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Keep state out of Internet gambling

The following editorial appeared in The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.) on Monday, May 21:


Step right up, folks, and place your bets. How will the state of Illinois try to expand legalized gambling next?

If you put your money on Internet gambling, you could be a winner. But whether that’s a winning proposition for the state as a whole is another question.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton decided to ante up last week by proposing the state should establish itself as an international leader in online poker and other types of Internet gambling. He claimed his gambit could bring in a payoff of hundreds of millions of dollars for Illinois.

The Chicago Democrat is introducing legislation that would create a Division of Internet Gaming within the Illinois Lottery, making our state the first to try its hand at online gambling. Illinois already is the first state to sell lottery tickets online.

But before everybody in Illinois rushes to their computer in a bid to get rich quick, let’s think about the state’s history with gaming.

Pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was the first legalized form of gambling in Illinois, and the only one for decades. The Illinois State Lottery was established in 1974 and has been a success.

Next came casino gambling, which largely has eclipsed horse racing, so much so that most believe the sport of kings can survive in Illinois only if the tracks are allowed to install slot machines and/or the casinos help subsidize them.

Just a couple of years ago, the state passed a law to legalize video poker games in taverns and clubs. Supporters said this would help the state address its budget shortfall, but lawmakers have been unable in the last two years to agree on regulations to enable video gaming. And anyone who really thinks about it has to realize the state never will be able to regulate video poker in taverns adequately. How can Illinois afford the personnel needed to check all those video poker machines, prevent cheating and ensure that the state is getting its proper share of the revenue?

If the state tries to get into the Internet gambling business, those problems will be multiplied. Cullerton’s proposal would allow online gambling by anyone who is 21 or older and physically in the state of Illinois. But who is going to police those online gamblers? Who is going to verify their ages and whether or not they are using stolen credit card numbers to place wagers? Who is going to monitor the maximum amounts of time and money each gambler supposedly would be able to spend playing poker online?

Do state officials really think they can stay a step ahead of the hackers and scammers and criminals who surf the Internet?

And let’s say Internet gambling does prove to be a big success in Illinois. Thousands, perhaps millions of our residents will be playing poker on their computers from the comfort of their homes. So why should they go to the casinos or the racetracks? Those existing industries could be devastated. At some point, won’t the gambling market in Illinois become saturated?

There are many reasons to oppose Cullerton’s idea, not the least of which is that the legal basis supporting it may well be unconstitutional. But do you think that’s likely to stop a plan that has the Illinois Senate president’s muscle behind it?

Don’t bet on it.

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