Lake County takes another look at allowing video gaming

Nearly four years after soundly rejecting video gaming, Lake County officials are taking another look at allowing bars and other establishments in the unincorporated area to have the machines.

While the initial vote came before any of the regulations had been worked out or licenses issued by the state, the argument for the fresh view is that video gaming is now established and is putting pressure on businesses that don't have it.

“I don't like it but I get it,” said Linda Pedersen, a county board member representing the Antioch area. She was on the majority side of an 18-4 vote in October 2009 to ban video gaming but has asked the board's financial and administrative committee to reconsider the ban.

That meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the county building in Waukegan.

Pedersen said there are 26 establishments in her district with liquor licenses that conceivably could benefit from the machines. That area, as well as Bonnie Thomson Carter's district to the south, includes the tourist-heavy Chain O' Lakes and Fox River.

“I have all these businesses with the video gaming all around their establishments within a two-mile radius and they can't have it,” Pedersen said. “It just boils down to a fairness issue, the more I thought about it.”

According to information provided by the county, 87 unincorporated establishments from throughout the county have liquor licenses that could qualify them for a gaming license if the county reverses the ban. Seventy-six of those are within two miles of one of the 19 municipalities in Lake County that allow video gaming.

State law allows individual communities to accept or reject video gaming at licensed bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops. County board members at the time of the vote said the revenue would not be reliable and allowing the games could result in other problems.

Some also criticized the inconsistency of having an activity allowable in one area but not nearby.

Business owners in the unincorporated areas have asked more than once for the county to reconsider.

“Now, it's no longer an issue of gaming. Now, it's a fairness issue,” said Rita Pavlin, vice president for the Tavern Owner's Association of Lake & McHenry County. She and her husband operate Steve's Sports Bar on Route 173, two miles west of Route 59 near Antioch. She said one bar in town makes about $7,000 per month in revenue from video gaming.

“This is unfair competition,” Pavlin said.

The proposed new rule would allow establishments to secure permit stickers for up to five machines from the county liquor commissioner, which is the county board chairman. If it is determined the establishment has violated the video gaming ordinance, county ordinances, or state or federal statutes, the commissioner could revoke or suspend the video gaming sticker subject to a public hearing.

If the matter is recommended by the finance committee, the full county board would consider it Aug. 13. Pedersen, Carter and Diane Hewitt, who represents the district immediately west of Pedersen, support the change.

“To be honest, it's going to be a tough vote,” Pedersen said.

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  A man plays a video gaming machine at RosatiÂ’s in Lakemoor this past spring. Rick West/
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