In a surprising policy reversal, the Island Lake village board has voted to allow video gambling machines in bars and restaurants.
With trustees tied 3-3, Mayor Charles Amrich on Thursday cast the deciding vote to permit the controversial devices in town.
Amrich previously had opposed legalizing gambling, siding with three trustees in January to let voters settle the issue in a future referendum. Thursday's vote swept aside the earlier resolution.
Before he voted, Amrich called the decision "gut-wrenching."
"I have to do what's in the best interests of the residents and the businesses," Amrich told the large audience at village hall. "We need some additional revenue in this village, and this is a good start."
The town has been divided on gambling.
Some people have spoken against it at meetings, saying video gambling is a vice that doesn't belong in their community. In a recent interview, Trustee Mark Beeson compared allowing the machines in town to allowing strip clubs.
Others have said the machines should be allowed because they generate money for businesses and for the village.
Proponents also have stressed that all the communities around Island Lake have video gambling, and that Island Lake residents have been driving out of town to spend their money in those establishments rather than in town.
"I think it's to the benefit of the community," resident Pattie Taylor said during Thursday's meeting. "We need the money."
For Amrich and the trustees who supported the measure, money was the big issue.
Island Lake's struggling finances have been in the spotlight for several years, most recently in 2013 when a $389,000 shortfall was discovered in the town's police pension fund.
In previous years, officials publicly questioned if they had enough money to pay bills.
Amrich voted with Trustees Chuck Cermak, Thea Morris and Shannon Fox on the issue. Beeson and Trustees Keith Johns and Tony Sciarrone went the other way.
It's the first time Amrich has broken with Johns, Sciarrone and Beeson on a significant issue since the foursome ran for office together last year.
Despite being on opposite sides, Johns stood up, reached over to Amrich and shook his hand after the vote. Johns also turned to the gambling supporters in the crowd and said he hopes the machines work for them.
Cermak has been the leading proponent of legalizing video gambling on the board. He thanked Amrich "for supporting the businesses of Island Lake."
Eduardo Collazo owns one of those businesses, Chiquita Food & Liquor. He's spoken in favor of allowing the machines in town, and he was happy with the board's vote.
"I think the village (trustees) have come to their senses," he said. "They need the money, and we need to stay in business."
Video gambling is allowed in licensed bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops under a 2009 state law. 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. But in many towns, that has amounted to thousands of dollars.