Editorial: Towns should think hard about new wave of requests for liquor licenses

When video gambling machines first opened in Illinois outside of traditional casinos in 2012, few of us probably expected to see them in places other than bars, Elks lodges, VFW halls and the like.

But now they're in mini casinos in strip malls all over the suburbs, in laundromats, liquor stores, gas stations and florists.

Five years into Illinois' foray into video gambling, some towns have held fast in their opposition to slots, despite the steady revenue stream they provide. And others are warily revisiting either their adoption or prohibition of them.

Supporters said slots were a way for businesses to remain competitive and for towns to find a new revenue source.

Now, it's the proliferation of liquor licenses beyond traditional bars and restaurants that is causing a bit of agita in the 'burbs.

Our Marie Wilson on Monday explored the growing discomfort with broadening liquor laws on two fronts:

• Some towns are suffering a tug of war between making their entertainment districts more fun and dealing with the consequences in the form of rowdy patrons and drunken drivers;

• The expansion of liquor licenses into such businesses as movie theaters, salons, a bike shop, a jewelry store, an antique store and even a funeral home begs the question: where does this all end?

We're not prohibitionists, mind you, but that last question is something every municipality ought to strongly consider.

Municipal leaders say they're creating specialized liquor licenses to respond to changing times and the businesses getting such licenses aren't likely to appeal to kids, but plenty of businesses serve as many children as adults.

When you allow one salon to serve wine, what leg does a municipal liquor commission have to stand on in denying a liquor license to a chain barbershop that caters to kids as well?

If a bike shop can get a liquor license, how can you say no to a beer tap for a clothing store?

Liquor commissioners have a lot of latitude, but still it is a slippery slope.

Wilson spoke with those who look at what the omnipresence of alcohol in daily life means for our kids.

"This normalization in society could have the effect of decreasing the perception of harm," said Dr. G. David Bedney, senior health educator at Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale.

Margaret Polovchak, manager of prevention services at OMNI Youth Services in Buffalo Grove, said, "The more available it is, the more at risk our kids are for using and starting at a young age."

The suburbs aren't reporting upticks in underage alcohol abuse as a result, but there is enough concern long term that we urge municipal leaders to exercise great care in considering new licenses.

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