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posted: 6/24/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Fearing the suburbs video gambling gold rush

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

There seems to be something of a gold rush recently among many suburban communities' officials to approve video gambling.

It's been approved in Huntley, Fox Lake, Wauconda, Elk Grove Village, Prospect Heights, Winfield and Kane County. Veterans organizations are pushing for the terminals in Elgin. In Huntley, officials are hoping the gambling terminals will generate $100,000 in revenue annually. In Prospect Heights, the hope is for at least $60,000 a year. In Elk Grove Village, several longtime small-business owners spoke up for the machines as a way to stay in business. Sites in Hoffman Estates, Port Barrington and Lakemoor were among the first communities to get state approval last week. Other town officials are talking and taking up the idea.

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We fully understand and appreciate that the revenue stream sounds wonderful to municipalities and especially to struggling bar, restaurant and fraternal organization operators as we slog through the Great Recession.

Still, we urge caution among those communities considering allowing video gambling. Yes, we have and still do support slot machines to keep Arlington Park operating as a viable business. But it is one thing to have gambling on the grounds at Arlington Park and at five area casinos. It is quite another to consider the prospect of as many as five video gambling terminals in every bar, restaurant and fraternal organization in multiple communities around the region.

The racetrack and the casinos are enclosed at their locations. The people who run them have a history of running gambling facilities and are focused only on that one enterprise. Even so, problem gamblers who have put themselves on exclusion lists often manage to get past the trained casino employees. In towns that will have video gambling, those terminals will be placed somewhere in those bars, fraternal halls, restaurants, bowling alleys and truck stops not far from families seeking a quiet night out and not far from others who shouldn't be spending money they don't really have on an addictive game set up so the odds are heavily weighted against them.

Shortly after video poker first was approved by state lawmakers in 2009 as a method to fund infrastructure improvements, about 150 area communities and six counties voted to ban it. Those officials believed then that the concept was bad, the proliferation would be too much. Now, as the Illinois Gaming Board nears a fall date to start up the machines, many of the officials in these towns are changing their minds. The only change between now and then is three more years of economic struggle.

We get that, but again we counsel caution and careful consideration. Those communities that have not yet approved video gambling should hold several public hearings before they do and ensure they are well publicized in advance. Many communities have done just that. Towns that have approved video gambling should publicly commit now to revisiting the subject in a year to assess whether it should remain. Illinois Gaming Board spokesman Gene O'Shea says there is nothing in the laws or regulations that would prohibit town leaders from banning video gambling within their borders after having previously allowed it.

We have said before and still believe such a proliferation of gambling across the suburbs and state is distasteful. We worry about the gaming board and towns' ability to safely operate and regulate so many terminals.

We understand the lure of more money in tough times, but we have long believed neither the state nor individual suburbs should rely on gambling proceeds as some sort of panacea to sustain us.

We confess we're a little like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," on this one. We don't want town after town after town of Pottersvilles when we look around our region. We'd prefer to preserve the Bedford Falls feel of suburban communities with great schools, wonderful parks and recreation, and good, hardworking friends and neighbors.

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