October 21, 2010

Forum planned on expansion of legalized gambling

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A forum next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will examine whether Illinois should be “all in” with legalized gambling expansion to resolve the state’s financial woes.

The discussion, “Is Legalized Gambling a Good Bet?” is set for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26, in Ballroom B of the Student Center. The forum is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, the forum will feature a debate by proponents on both sides of the contentious issue. Thomas F. Swoik is executive director of the Illinois Gaming Association, while Tom Grey is the senior adviser to the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.

Media Availability

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend a media availability with Thomas F. Swoik and Tom Grey from 1:30 to 2 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 26, in the lobby of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Institute Director David Yepsen will host. For more information, contact Christina Rich, Institute project coordinator, at 618/453-4078

Among questions the state is facing is whether gambling is a regressive tax, and whether it is right for the government to be involved in it, Institute Director David Yepsen said.

An Institute poll last week shows registered voters in Illinois evenly divided over questions of gambling expansion, Yepsen said. There are 49.9 percent who support more gambling, 46.3 percent who oppose it, and 3.8 percent are undecided.

In 1990, Illinois became the second state in the nation to legalize riverboat gambling. There are nine riverboat casinos in Illinois; the first opened in Alton in September 1991. Construction began in April in Des Plaines for a casino and entertainment complex after the Illinois Gaming Board awarded the state’s remaining casino license. Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, LLC officials anticipate the complex will open in late summer 2011.

In July 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation to permit video gaming terminals in certain businesses and fraternal and veterans’ clubs in Illinois. The Illinois Gaming Board has yet to issue any licenses, according to its website.

“The fact the poll shows people in Illinois are evenly divided on this question makes it a particularly good topic for debate,” Yepsen said. “There are good arguments on both sides, our guests are two veteran experts on the issues involved and this is a chance for people to hear them and ask questions. More gambling or not is an important policy question in our state.”

Prior to becoming executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, Swoik was interim administrator of the Illinois Gaming Board in 2001, and deputy administrator-finance and administration from November 1994 through March 2002. Prior to that, Swoik was deputy director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for three years, and worked in various capacities with the Illinois State Board of Education for nearly 16 years, according to his biography.

Swoik earned a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Illinois-Springfield, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Murray State University.

The title of Grey’s presentation will be, “Why fixing Illinois starts with the government program of predatory gambling,” according to Les Bernal, executive director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation.

After his initial involvement to oppose gambling when a riverboat casino docked in his county in 1992, Grey became the full-time organizer and national spokesman for the then newly formed “National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling,” according to his biography. Along with profiles in major media outlets, Grey also debates casino executives in town halls and national television, including CNN’s former show, “Crossfire.”

Prior to becoming a minister, Grey was commander of a U.S. Army rifle company in Germany and a military adviser to a Vietnamese infantry battalion in Vietnam.

For more information on this program, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009 or visit http://paulsimoninstitute.org/.