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updated: 12/18/2012 10:03 PM

Sugar Grove may reverse ban on video gambling, seek voters' opinions

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After hearing passionate pleas from supporters of the Sugar Grove American Legion post, the Sugar Grove village board indicated it is likely to reverse its ban on video gambling, at least until voters' opinions on the subject can be discerned in an advisory referendum.

The board, meeting as a committee of the whole Tuesday, directed its staff to prepare two ordinances for its Jan. 8 regular board meeting. One would be to put an advisory question on the April ballot, and the other would reverse the ban, enacted in September.

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Trustee Rick Montalto suggested the compromise, after three other trustees said they still preferred to have an advisory referendum before making up their minds about the matter. Montalto also favors a referendum.

Trustees Mari Johnson and Robert Bohler favor allowing video gambling, and voted against the September ban.

Trustee Kevin Geary had suggested the referendum in August, but it was too late to be put on the November ballot. "It's not about right or wrong. I think it is about democracy," he said Tuesday. "... They should tell us clearly do they want gambling in their community or not."

Johnson disagreed vehemently. "I just don't get it (fence-sitting). ... we were elected to do a job, and it is to make decisions," she said. Montalto disagreed, saying the board did make a decision when it banned the gambling.

The American Legion post applied to the Illinois Gaming Board earlier this year for permission to have the machines. It is the only place in Sugar Grove that has applied. The Blackberry Inn, in an unincorporated area north of town, has the machines, and a bar south of town has applied for the machines.

A representative from the American Legion said the post, which has a bar and offers community fish fries and pork-chop dinners, has lost business to the Blackberry Inn. Even post members are going there, said Sons of the American Legion Chaplain Cliff Barker.

"We may not be here in April," said the post's adjutant, Dave Smith. He said it costs $357 a day to open the building. "We're down to the last," he said. "I think it has just got to be decided."

"You the board will be responsible for putting people out of work," said auxiliary member Ronda Flint. "We have never let you down, so please don't let the veterans down," she said.

The only audience member who spoke in favor of waiting until after the referendum was Henry County resident Jon Zahm, a former Batavia resident who is chairman of the Kane County Conservative Coalition and manager of Geary's campaign for village president. While sympathizing with the post's financial needs, he noted that American Legion posts have been around almost 100 years, long before the state decided to allow them to have video gambling.

In its 2010 federal income tax return, the last available on Guidestar.org, the post reported income of $230,684 and expenses of $164,540.

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