Elk Grove Village officials will decide next month whether to allow video gambling in town. They heard from residents, gambling industry experts, vendors and businesses eager to get gambling machines for their establishments during a public hearing Tuesday night.
The village currently has an ordinance against video gambling but allows bingo, lottery sales, off-track betting and casino nights. The village board will make a final decision on video gambling at its June 19 meeting.
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The Illinois Gaming Board is expected to start accepting applications for video gambling licenses beginning Aug. 1, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said.
The state legalized video gambling in 2009 to raise $31 billion for capital improvements. As many as 15,000 locations statewide are expected to seek licenses once applications become available, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. No more than five machines can be placed in licensed truck stops, restaurants with liquor licenses, bars, clubs or halls of fraternal and veterans' organizations.
Suburbs that have banned video gambling include Arlington Heights, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Hanover Park, Roselle and Schaumburg. Some towns that had gambling bans are reviewing lifting them. Others, including Bartlett, have yet to take a stance on the issue.
A majority of those who spoke at the hearing supported video gambling in Elk Grove Village.
Resident Brian Margulis said after raising two daughters in the village, he has earned the right to have some fun.
"My daughters, when they were younger, we used to take them out to Chuck E. Cheese's," said Margulis, a member of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "From my perspective, it's my turn to go to Chuck E. Cheese's. Restaurants need this. This is not a life-changing situation. I don't have a problem with me and my neighbors going out to a place, dropping a couple of coins into video machines."
However, some residents didn't see the value of adding video gambling.
"I don't feel that the video gambling is going to do anything that's really good for Elk Grove," resident Ellen Wilkerson said.
Video gambling is extremely addictive and would be accessible to local residents and employees of local businesses, said Nancy Duel, a board member of the local cahpter of the League of Women Voters.
Duel said the league was opposed to using gambling as a solution to the state's fiscal problems because revenues fluctuate and cannot provide stable funding for state services and programs.
"The expansion of gambling in Illinois over the last 20 years has been a series of stopgap measures to shore up lagging economic growth and one more excuse lawmakers use to avoid finding long-term solutions," she said.
Yet, for local businesses struggling to survive, video gambling can be a lifesaver, said Rick Cotini, who owns Ringside Sports Bar in Elk Grove Village, which includes an off-track betting parlor.
"Five years ago we were discussing the OTB. Despite the opposition, we were very grateful to move forward," he said.
Cotini said if neighboring communities start allowing video gambling, Elk Grove Village businesses would lose customers and revenue.
Counties and municipalities that allow video gambling will receive 5 percent of revenues after winnings are paid out. The state collects 25 percent of those revenues, while establishment owners and the terminal operators split the rest evenly.
If it's allowed, Elk Grove Village is anticipating roughly $50,000 to $100,000 in yearly revenue from video gambling.
Chuck Hamburg, who teaches casino management and gambling at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said Elk Grove Village stands to make roughly $350,000 in revenue from video gambling.
"It's going to be $400 million to $600 million for the state," he said. "All those (towns) that have opted out are going to opt in eventually. It goes beyond the bars and the restaurants. It's the shopping, it's the malls, it's the jobs. This is just another revenue stream. It's a maximum $2 bet, $500 payout. It's something that the community is going to gain from. It's going to increase the food revenue, the beverage revenue. It is a tragic mistake on your part if you don't vote this in."
Johnson said his primary concern is that the village has no authority to regulate video poker machines, which would be permitted in any business holding a liquor license where on-site consumption is allowed.
"With video gaming, we don't have the same kind of oversight that we have with a liquor license," he said.
If allowed, Johnson said Elk Grove Village will have the strictest regulations of any town that has video gambling.
Johnson said the Elk Grove Park District Board also has voiced its unanimous support for video gambling.
The park district is considering having video gambling machines at one of its facilities, Fox Run Golf Links Clubhouse, where it operates a full-service bar and eatery. The park board will be discussing the matter at 7 p.m. Thursday, Johnson said.