Lake County Board cites competitive fairness in close vote overturning video gambling ban
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A ban on video gambling in unincorporated Lake County was repealed and a new ordinance to allow it was approved by the county board in a close vote Tuesday.
The 11-9 vote included supporters who said they personally don't like gambling but considered its presence in several communities a competitive disadvantage to the 87 establishments that have liquor licenses and could qualify for the state-issued license for the video gaming machines.
"I think it's a fairness issue. It doesn't have anything to do with whether you like it or not," said board member Linda Pedersen of Antioch, whose district includes the highest concentration of potentially eligible businesses.
Pedersen's district includes the popular Chain `O Lakes area and has about 26 establishments that could potentially be eligible for a license. She was among the majority in an 18-4 vote in 2009 to ban video gambling, but recently has pushed for the matter to be reconsidered.
"I'm not happy that it's here, but it's here," she said after the vote.
Gambling interests estimated it could take up to a year to secure state approval for establishments that apply for the state license.
During discussions in county board committees in recent weeks, supporters noted the original vote was taken before state rules were in place. The thought was municipalities, which can decide for themselves on video gambling, would follow suit.
But since it became available, 19 towns wholly or partially within Lake County have approved video gambling, which is allowed at licenses bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops.
"I want to be able to say, `Yeah, come on in, we've got it,'" Linda Brown, owner of Brown Sip & Go in Spring Grove, told the board. "Is it going to work? I don't know. You just have to give us the opportunity."
Information provided to the county board showed that 76 of 87 establishments in the unincorporated area are within two miles of communities that allow it.
"I think it comes down to an issue of fairness for me, personally," board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said after the vote. "This creates the most level playing field we can possibly make. Let the market function."
Opponents were staunch in their contention that expanding gambling was not good for the county overall, and would be detrimental to the health and welfare of citizens.
Some predicted an approval would result in pressure on officials in communities that don't allow it.
"Is this really in the best interests of the citizens of Lake County?" asked board member Pat Carey of Grayslake. That community does not allow video gambling and residents don't want it, she contended.
Carey said studies showed video gambling is "an extremely addictive" form of gambling.
"It's not just another riverboat. It's the type of gambling that will be in your neighborhoods."
Board member Audrey Nixon of North Chicago also supported the measure in 2009.
"This vote is not going to stop people from gambling," she said before the vote.
Lake Zurich resident Elise Bouc said she had a friend whose life was ruined by video gambling as the family accumulated $50,000 in credit card debt.
"I think they just sold us down the river," she said after the vote.
Tavern owners who had pushed for the change said they were at a disadvantage without the option to pursue video gambling.
"It's good for the area," said Steve Pavlin, co-owner of Steve's Sports Bar on Route 173 near Antioch. "Everybody or nobody, that's how I am. What's fair is fair."
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