Many moons ago, a member of my circle who had struggled with a substance addiction reported that he had gone to Vegas and stayed away from substances but lost a shirt or two at the slots and tables.
“Glad I got that out of my system,” he said, admitting to a fear that one addiction was in danger of being replaced by another. Pretty sure that was the last time he darkened a door at the Bright Light City.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the addiction-control toolbox mentioned above to avoid the pitfalls of putting too many coins or dollars in the machines that have popped up from one corner of Lake County to the other.
But it is also true that, just as we all know someone who has a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, there are those who can’t control their wagering, including the dollars spent at a video terminal.
According to an estimate provided this spring by Nicasa Behavioral Health Services — also known to locals by its ancestral name as the Northern Illinois Council Against Substance Abuse — the number of Lake County residents struggling with a gambling problem is roughly equal to the population of Barrington or Long Grove.
“Research shows that most people who gamble do so responsibly, but some will develop a problem,” Nicasa officials said in a statement back in March, which, perhaps because of the associated madness, is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.
“In Lake County, that means about 10,000 or more of our community members are struggling with a serious gambling problem,” the statement added. “Often called ‘the silent addiction,’ people are losing their jobs, homes, families, even their lives to this condition.”
That reality was apparently on the minds of Lake County Board members on Tuesday when they unanimously approved what has become an annual practice: Parceling out the county’s entire share of video-gambling revenue — or 5% of the 30% state tax on total revenue — to qualified social-service agencies that target gambling addiction.
“We’re the only entity of which I’m aware that devotes its entire (gaming tax revenue) share to human services,” said board Member Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park in detailing the 2019 grant recipients, who are sharing a pool of $622,170.
Nicasa was prominent on the list, receiving $75,000 for gambling education and outreach and another $75,000 for clinical therapeutic services for gambling addicts.
Also on the roster was the United Way of Lake County, which received $83,000 toward its 2-1-1 hotline, which is a 24/7 confidential phone service that puts callers in touch with referral specialists.
More than a half-dozen grants were also awarded to agencies and Lake County departments looking to “increase the capacity of behavioral health service providers,” according to a board report, including $50,000 to Catholic Charities Lake County Services in Waukegan; $30,000 to the Community Youth Network in Grayslake; $30,000 to the Erie Family Health Center in Waukegan; $30,000 toward counseling services at A Safe Place, the Zion-based domestic violence services agency; another $30,000 toward A Safe Place’s co-location program with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services; $80,000 to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office; $42,5000 to Arden Shore Child and Family Services in Waukegan; $82,500 to the Lake County Health Department; $5,000 to the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center in Gurnee; and $24,170 to Youth and Family Counseling in Libertyville.
This redirection of gambling dollars emerged out of a debate held among Lake County officials in 2013, when the board reconsidered its initial decision in 2009 to opt out of the Video Gaming Act.
As one Antioch-area tavern owner told the board at the time, gambling at video terminals was not only in Lake County already, it was “very much in Lake County.” Bars sitting on the unincorporated side of a roadway said they were getting killed by competitors sitting on the other side in a municipality where video gambling was allowed.
During that debate, Sandra Hart, who was then a rank-and-file board member and now serves as chair, said, “Video gambling is highly addictive and destroys families,” adding that she was wary of “ignoring the long-term costs (of) creating mini-casinos.”
Hart ended up voting against repealing the ban on video gambling in unincorporated Lake County, but she was in the minority. Since then, the county’s cut of video gaming taxes at more than 60 locations in unincorporated areas has ranged from around $199,000 when the program got off the ground in 2014 to a high of more than $665,000 in 2016. That revenue is budgeted to come in at $650,000 for the 2019-20 fiscal year, up $100,000 from 2018-19.
The county’s choice to fuel its addiction services with gambling money was formalized in 2016, and it isn’t shared by every government body that jumped about the video wagon. In Fox Lake, where more than 25 establishments are licensed for gambling, the village’s $285,000 share of revenue in 2018-19 was dropped into the general fund.
In Waukegan, where $288 million was wagered between March 2018 and March 2019 at the city’s 57 establishments licensed for video gambling, 100% of the municipal cut of gaming revenues, other than licensing fees, goes towards Waukegan’s police and fire pension funds.
The last couple of years, that cut has come in at around $1 million annually, and is applied to pension obligations running in the $15 million range each year.
Ask any 10 people if they think gambling is additive and destroys families and you’ll get 10 different arguments. But if reality demands that governments allow and regulate gambling, reality also demands that they also try to cover all the costs involved.