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posted: 1/23/2014 9:55 AM

Editorial: Fill the video gambling licensing gap quickly

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Illinois residents have no more stomach for news about crooked dealings, so lawmakers' refusal last week to close loopholes in the way video gambling licenses are handled should have them reaching for the antacids.

The Illinois Gaming Board, which proposed the reforms to prevent unscrupulous business people from profiting from sales, was stunned by a legislative committee's unanimous vote. Similar rules already apply for the state's casinos. Chairman Aaron Jaffe estimates that hundreds of video gambling contracts already have been sold by unlicensed individuals, The Associated Press reported.

The committee offered little explanation other than that some members thought the proposed rules were too broad. Whatever the case, for the rest of us, the corruption detector is flashing yellow. Meanwhile, a steady stream of suburbs continue to welcome video gambling at bars and clubs, partaking in the explosive growth -- and profits -- the industry has seen in its first year. Since October 2012, more than 13,000 machines have been installed statewide.

The loophole -- along with the committee's decision to do nothing about it -- is a good reason for any town that is considering allowing or expanding video gambling to think long and hard about doing so. Until this issue can be resolved, those that accept machines within their borders are setting themselves up as hosts to possible unsavory dealings.

Municipalities short on revenue can hardly be faulted for wanting video gambling, though. Several already are cashing in; in the first year, Fox Lake collected eight times the revenue it expected. That's gotten the attention of nearby Island Lake, whose business community no doubt is feeling it cannot compete with towns that allow video gambling. Island Lake could vote tonight to reverse its ban.

Wheeling and Bartlett are weighing restrictions on the number of sites in town. In October, Barrington decided to stand by its ban on the machines, concerned, as one trustee stated, that video gambling can be conducted by business owners "with very shaky backgrounds." For these and other towns, caution is the best bet. Besides the possibility of corruption, they should consider the costs of treatment, crime and other factors associated with problem gambling.

The current rules for licensing the machines -- including to manufacture, install, own and operate them -- exist for a reason. Illinois' corruption problem is real. Lawmakers should have the sense to know that any gap in the regulations that allows unlicensed middlemen to make deals should be eliminated quickly. Many contractors play by the rules, but where there's a chance to cheat, others are sure to take it.

Jaffe plans to present the proposal to the full General Assembly or bring a new set of rules back to the committee. Perhaps some clarification of the reforms is needed. With an average of 30 new machines being installed every day, there's no time to waste.

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