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updated: 4/25/2014 10:45 PM

Door not closed on video gambling in Vernon Hills

Vernon Hills mayor has heard inquiries from businesses about changing ordinance

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The prospect of video gambling has resurfaced in Vernon Hills, but the possibility of village officials allowing it could be a long shot.

And since there are no specific applications and no timetable to make a decision, any official village stance on the matter could be awhile coming.

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As it stands, gambling is prohibited in the village and the local ordinance would have to be changed to allow it. The board heard a pitch about two years ago from a restaurant/pub, but that entity went out of business and the ban was left in place.

Last month, Mayor Roger Byrne reintroduced the idea, saying he has had general inquiries from several business. The board has had two informal discussions.

Under state law, video gambling is allowed at licensed businesses where liquor is served on premises, at truck stops and at fraternal or veterans establishments.

Byrne said he would favor legalizing gambling in town only if the village could control the number of establishments that could offer video gambling.

Whether or how that could be done is being researched.

"There are people who are interested in it," he said. "I don't necessarily have a problem with it, but I want to be sure we have control."

One possibility suggested by Village Attorney Bob Kenny would be to tie video gambling to the village's liquor license requirements.

"I suppose we could put a lot of conditions on our liquor license because it's our prerogative to do that," Kenny said during one discussion.

The question, he added, was if it is within the village's purview to control video gambling or whether it is a statewide concern.

In a subsequent discussion, Kenny said some communities have formulated regulations to limit video gambling but they have not been challenged by the Illinois Gaming Board.

"They don't have the personnel or money to enforce many of these provisions," he said of state authorities.

With its vast commercial area, Vernon Hills would appear to be a ripe environment for the machines. But owners of shopping centers, including Westfield Hawthorn mall, control the practice through lease agreements with tenants, the village board was told.

Millions of square feet of retail space would be taken out of play by owners who don't favor video gambling, Byrne said.

"Is it going to become so pervasive in town? I can't imagine they would totally change all the leases," he said.

Whether any possibility would fly is uncertain, as a majority of four board members in an informal poll said they would oppose video gambling.

"I see Vernon Hills as a family community. I don't see any benefit to us. It does not help our community whatsoever," Trustee Jeanne Schwartz said.

Byrne was joined by Trustees Thom Koch and Jim Schultz in wanting to continue the review.

"They're not the end of the world," Schultz said of the gambling machines.

"I could be swayed either way but I have to see an actual request."

Village staff members will study various local ordinances that restrict video gambling and, at some point, will bring them back to the board for review, Village Manager John Kalmar said.

"It's still up in the air right now," Byrne said.

"It'll be back on the agenda."

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