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Video poker slammed as worst of all possible options
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/29/2009 2:57 PM | Updated: 5/29/2009 6:46 PM

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Anti-gambling forces ramped up pressure on Gov. Pat Quinn Friday, lining up three academic experts to blast a deal to legalize video gambling in bars, clubs and restaurants to pay for a public works bonanza.

Adding more than 45,000 legal gambling machines across the state in thousands of businesses will only mire the state in bankruptcies and foreclosures while deepening corruption, the experts argued at a news conference hosted by Stop Predatory Gambling, a national nonpartisan group.

Tim Kelly, former executive director of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, said the 'video poker' machines are more addictive and dangerous to society than casinos and racetracks because they represent "convenience gambling," available in any corner bar and on most main streets.

Kelly's commission, formed by then-President Bill Clinton, recommended specifically that states stay away from that form of gambling because it "provides fewer benefits and creates potentially greater social costs" than other forms of gambling.

Supporters of the plan say video gambling is already going on in scores of bars and clubs. They say the legislation will simply legalize, regulate and tax the practice.

They also argue addicts will find a way to gamble regardless of whether it is legal in their communities. They can already drive to a casino, play the lottery or go on the Internet.

But the machines have been dubbed the "crack cocaine" of gambling by anti-gambling advocates and even by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who opposed legalizing them in Illinois.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Natasha Dow Schull said the machines are "a far cry from the one-arm bandits from the '50s and '60s."

Instead, she said the machines are designed with false "rewards" to keep players at the machine longer, with mechanisms to keep them playing faster and with simultaneous-play options to entice them to spend more money than before, said Schull.

"There's no need to wait for horses to run, or a dealer to shuffle," she pointed out.

Schull also said problem gamblers are more likely to be drawn to video gambling machines, which can generate as high as 60 percent of their revenue from addicts.

Another study found that while up to 10 percent of casino gamblers were so-called "pathological" gamblers, twice that percentage of non-casino video poker player fit that category, said Frank Quinn, a psychologist who studied video poker in South Carolina, where it existed for seven years until several lawsuits shut it down.

While federal trials here in Illinois have demonstrated a link between illegal video poker and the mob, even with legal video poker in South Carolina, there were instances of the machines being used to launder money, said Quinn, who is no relation to the Illinois governor.

Within six months of video poker being removed, the number of Gamblers Anonymous groups dropped by half, and in six more months, fell by another 25 percent, Quinn said.

Stop Predatory Gambling called on Quinn to veto the measure.

A spokesman said the governor is considering all his options. Gov. Quinn has said he might sign the legislation because it will ultimately fund a long-awaited $29 billion public works package expected to create tens of thousands of jobs. He had previously promised to oppose any massive expansion of gambling.