Lake County panel says repeal video gambling ban

Future of ban up to Lake County Board

The question of whether to allow video gambling in unincorporated Lake County will go to the full county board with a key recommendation from the finance committee.

The county board's finance and administrative committee recommended repealing the 2009 ordinance that banned video gambling and, in a separate vote, agreed to create a new one to allow it.

Both were 5-2 votes.

“I easily could take either side of this,” said committee member Steve Carlson, who represents the Gurnee area. “I'm against it, I'll vote against it (at the full board meeting) Tuesday, but I'll vote to get it out of committee.”

That nearly didn't happen, as there initially was no second to the motion to repeal the ban. But after some hesitation, Mike Rummel, who represents portions of Highland Park, Deerfield and Lake Forest, gave the nod.

He said his communities don't want video gambling, but it is a bigger-picture issue.

“This is something that should go before the whole board to be decided,” he said. “Twenty-one people should be voting on this.”

State regulations had not been worked out when the county board by an overwhelming margin denied video gambling in October 2009. The rationale in part was that allowing it could present problems and that there would be inconsistency because it was up to individual communities to decide whether to allow it.

Since then, 19 communities in Lake County, including Fox Lake and Antioch, have approved video gambling, which is allowed by state law at bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops.

Lake County planners say there are 87 establishments in unincorporated areas that could qualify for gaming licenses but that the majority are concentrated in the Chain O' Lakes area.

“Pandora's box has been opened. It's here. People are going to gamble. If they can't go to my place, they'll go somewhere else,” Sean Smith, owner of Jesse Oaks in Gages Lake, told committee members. He said figures available online showed one bar in Waukegan made $24,000 from video gambling in June.

Business owners argue they face unfair competition, and county board members representing those areas have taken up their cause. All involved agree the issue is not about revenue for the county.

“It's a different time than when we voted on it before,” said Bonnie Thomson Carter, whose district includes Fox Lake. She said eligible businesses should have the option to pursue a license.

The other side of the argument is that officials in communities that don't allow it, like Gurnee and Grayslake, will get pressure from businesses if the county permits it in the unincorporated areas.

“The fairness doctrine we've been talking about goes two ways,” said Nick Sauer, who represents the Barrington area.

Sauer added there is no clear information on the effects of video gambling, and he said he wants to make a “data driven” decision.

“There are too many unanswered questions,” he said. “That's why I have to say no.”

He was joined by Pat Carey of Grayslake.

“Gambling is just a lousy way to fund government,” she said. “It does lead to problems in families and communities.”

Observers expect the full county board to be split on the issue, with a decision one way or the other separated by only a vote or two.

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  Sean Smith, center, owner of Jesse Oaks in Gages Lake, and Jim Bender, right, owner of J.B.’s Inn in Wood Dale, spoke in support of eliminating Lake County’s ban on video gaming. Mick Zawislak/
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