Business owners angry after Island Lake board punts on gambling issue
Despite repeated pleas from local business owners to allow video gambling in town, Island Lake officials punted and said they'll let voters decide the issue through a referendum.
The village board's 4-3 vote to put the issue on the first available ballot — possibly as soon as November — prompted some entrepreneurs in the audience to storm out of Thursday night's meeting.
One said he'll cancel plans to open a new bar in town because of the vote.
"We're gone," said William Teasley, a Cary resident who was set to sign a lease for a place on Route 176 next month. "We're going to another town."
Jerry DeLaurentis, owner of Sideouts Bar & Eatery and the adjoining 3-D Bowl, cursed the board members for essentially extending the existing ban on video gambling.
Restaurants and bars outside the village limits have had the machines for a year or more, he said, which puts him and fellow business owners at a financial disadvantage.
"We're a year and a half behind the eight ball," DeLaurentis said.
The board rejected video gambling in August with the same 4-3 vote. As was the case then, Mayor Charles Amrich broke the trustees' tie Thursday to decide the matter.
In a telephone interview Friday, Amrich dismissed the business owners' complaints. A smart business owner will find a way to survive without gambling machines, he said.
"Is this any way to balance your checkbook? I think not," Amrich said.
That comment came just two weeks after he acknowledged local businesses are at a disadvantage because video gambling isn't allowed.
"Surely we want to try to help the businesses in town survive and prosper," Amrich told the Daily Herald on Jan. 9.
Video gambling is allowed in licensed bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops under a 2009 state law that was designed to help fund statewide public works improvements.
Each establishment is limited to five machines, and they must be in areas accessible only to people at least 21 years old.
Villages get a small percentage of the money the machines take in. All of the communities around Island Lake have legalized video gambling, and they've collected thousands of dollars from the machines.
Trustees Chuck Cermak, Thea Morris and Shannon Fox have supported legalizing video gambling and opposed the idea of a referendum Thursday.
Business owners should be allowed to decide if they want to install gambling machines, Fox said, and patrons should be allowed to decide if they want to use the devices.
"It's not our place to decide how other people spend their money," Fox said.
Amrich and trustees Mark Beeson, Keith Johns and Tony Sciarrone voted to put a referendum on a ballot.
Johns proposed the referendum despite earlier comments in support of local businesses. Residents who oppose gambling outnumber the business owners who support it, he said.
"Just because I didn't vote for (gambling) doesn't mean I don't support our businesses," Johns said in an interview Friday. "I believe we have an obligation to the residents of our village to hear from them."
As he has in the past, Beeson criticized the municipal cut as being too small.
"Why are we getting the scraps?" Beeson said.
More than a dozen audience members shared their opinions about video gambling Thursday night, and those comments reflected both sides of the debate.
Among the opponents was former trustee John Ponio, husband of Village Clerk Teresa Ponio. He angrily criticized Amrich and other trustees for revisiting the issue and for being swayed by business owners.
The officials on the dais didn't appreciate Ponio's accusations.
"I'm not going to sit here and be belittled by you," Johns told Ponio.
"I'm insulted," Amrich added.
Village attorney David McArdle said he'll research whether a referendum needs to be binding or merely advisory. The board will need to approve a question for the ballot at a future meeting.
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