Does $141 Million in Philanthropy Outweigh Social Costs of Casino?

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August 3, 2011; Source: Courier News | Earlier this year, we wrote about the sparse philanthropic generosity of some parts of the casino gambling industry, noting that some industry experts were even unaware that some casinos had philanthropic arms. In Illinois, the Grand Victoria casino in Elgin may be one of the exceptions. 

The fifteen-year-old Grand Victoria Foundation has handed out $151 million in philanthropic support across Illinois, including $20 million targeted specifically to programs in Elgin. According to the GVF executive director, the original owners of the casino believed that creating a casino-linked foundation was consistent with the state’s original intent for approving casino gambling—that is, community economic development. Apparently, the current owners, a branch of MGM Resorts International, are still supporting the foundation. 

According to the Courier-News, “one-fifth of the casino’s net operating income is set aside for philanthropy,” and only 12.5 percent goes to the foundation, with the other 7.5 percent of net operating income going to Kane County. Although the foundation supports a diverse array of programs in Elgin and across the state—plus pays a hefty tax to the state (in addition to a special tax paid by successful casinos to subsidize the state’s horse-racing tracks)—some critics might charge that the social costs of casinos outweigh their economic and charitable benefits. Others might say that if states are going to authorize casinos, communities might as well get what they can from them for charitable activities. Is Grand Victoria’s philanthropy the exception or becoming the norm for casinos with positive cash flows?—Rick Cohen