Byline: Bill O'Brien Daily Herald Staff Writer
Local anti-gambling advocates put their focus Sunday on a drive to give voters a say in whether gambling is expanded in Illinois.
Lex Varria, a former mob bookmaker, said the proliferation of legalized gambling operations - whether it be slot machines, more riverboats and land-based casinos - "legitimizes" illegal gambling operations.
"You're just opening the door for organized crime to come in and take over the illegal bookmaking aspects of it," said Varria, 45, who spoke at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Sunday.
"The more exposure a community has to gambling, the more victims are going to be created," said Varria, who will bring his views to students at Rolling Meadows High School today and at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights Tuesday.
For 10 years, Varria lured Boston-area students into illegal gambling. In the mid 1980s he got out of the business and moved to Portland, Ore., to work as a hairdresser.
Of particular concern to him, however, are senior citizens.
Varria said seniors are victims of riverboat operations, some of which are offering senior citizen days with buffet lunches and free daytime busing from downstate areas.
"If senior citizens lose their money, that's it; they can't recover," he said.
Two senior citizens at Sunday's event, Calvin and Betty Robinson of Prospect Heights, called gambling an "insidious poison for the spirit."
They support a proposal to put the question to voters in the November 1998 election. The measure is expected to be considered by state senators this week.
"We have been very much disheartened that our economy and social status will be affected ... by this influence (and) that is advancing …