In the 1970s, the fading resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey, got an idea to reverse its fortunes: legalize gambling and create a bastion of casinos that would attract visitors from across the Northeast. It worked pretty well.

That is, until a lot of smaller communities got the same idea and opened their own casinos, taking customers away from Atlantic City. Now, the city is under emergency management, much like Detroit was before it declared bankruptcy, and there’s much speculation that Atlantic City is on the same path.

The casino industry in Northwest Indiana is hardly Atlantic City, which at its peak was revered as the East Coast’s Las Vegas. Still, the same fate could very well come to pass here, and it would still hurt on some level.

Despite casinos being the most lucrative business in Lake County, the Horseshoe and Ameristar only employ about 2600 people between them, which is a relatively small amount in a population of nearly half-a-million. But as I’ve discussed before, the big thing casinos bring to the state is tax money. Lots of it.

Every time Chicago faces a budget problem, talk of legalizing gambling in the city comes up, and the Region casinos all hold their breath. So far, it’s never come to pass, but it seems more like a matter of when, not if, the city comes around to it. Several other states have legalized it in some form, if not outright. Online gambling is thriving so well that some states are proposing laws taxing it. Heck, pro sports, one of the last institutions you’d think would want to get involved with gambling, are opening up to it.

Should Chicago ever finally implement gambling, and—God forbid—draw away enough customers to put Northwest Indiana’s casinos out of business, there goes a good chunk of local tax money. Making up for that shortfall would require a) instituting a new tax elsewhere, b) accepting the shortfall and possibly going into the red, or c) cutting yet more services. In any case, it will affect residents.

Maybe this will happen soon, maybe it’s a long way off. But it seems like a fool’s bet to say it won’t ever happen.

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