Kane County poised to reaffirm support for video gambling

With some Kane County Board members calling video gambling an "insidious" practice, members of a committee nonetheless voted Wednesday to keep it legal in the unincorporated portions of the county.

The committee's recommendation goes to the full county board next month.

County leaders decided to re-examine video gambling following neighboring DuPage County's recent decision to renew a ban.

In Kane County, it took on a tenuous position in 2009 when the board decided to enact a ban only to reverse it just five months later.

Video gambling exploded in Illinois after that decision.

State and local officials raked in more than $811 million in taxes once the machines found widespread acceptance, according to Illinois Gaming Board reports.

Kane County has 11 establishments in unincorporated areas with video gambling. Those machines result in $135,000 of tax revenue for the county.

That's not a large number. The county's share of Grand Victoria Riverboat profits hit a new low in 2016.

Grand Victoria officials blame video gambling for the downturn in their business.

The county's share of income from all sources of gambling is now half what it was in 2011.

But local business owners say video gambling helped restore profits lost when the state enacted its smoking ban.

Miguel Terrazas told members of the county board's administration committee taking his video gambling machines away would close his business.

His establishment, Rudy's Lounge & Grill, sits just outside Aurora.

He learned the appeal of video gambling in 2014. That's when the restaurant across the street installed video gambling machines.

"People stopped coming to me for dinner," Terrazas said. "When people came in, they were always asking me when I was going to get the games. My business went down almost 45 percent during those months when we didn't have it. I thought I was going to close."

Taking all Kane County into account, both incorporated and unincorporated areas, there are almost 1,000 video gambling machines in operation.

Only a select number of communities, such as Batavia and Elburn, have bans in place.

To Aurora's Roger Curless, all that means is an increasing amount of social problems.

"You cannot separate the expansion and ease of gambling from the problems of addiction," Curless told the committee. "One cannot pretend that homes are not broken, lives are not damaged. If you want to gamble in this county, it is not too far away. There have to be some places where we say, 'Enough of this.'"

Curless had the hearts of most committee members.

Becky Gillam voted against video gambling twice as a West Dundee trustee.

But even her home village legalized video gambling once she no longer had a vote.

"I don't think video gambling is a good thing," Gillam said. "I don't even like the riverboats. I know families ruined by gambling. It's insidious. And it's an unreliable revenue source. But now it's been in place for nearly eight years. And there are people who depend on this. I just don't know, eight years in, how do you go back?"

Drew Frasz agreed. He was one of the leading voices against legalizing video gambling in Kane County back in 2009 and 2010.

On Tuesday, he became one of the leading voices on the committee to keep video gambling in place.

"I don't think anybody opposed video gambling stronger than I did," Frasz said. "But as long as the bulk of the county is allowing gambling I'm reluctant to penalize a select few."

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