Kane County repeals video gambling ban

Posted5/12/2010 12:01 AM

Kane County became the first legislative body in Illinois to repeal its ban on video gambling Tuesday in a vote which seemed destined to come almost immediately after the county's ban went in place.

The change gives the green light to 22 eligible businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county to install video gambling machines as soon as the state begins issuing video gambling licenses. The repeal reverses the ban the county board put in place last December. At the time, the ban passed by a single vote.


The flip in county board opinion came as three members in favor of video gambling cast votes on the issue for the first time. Board members Gerald Jones, Mike Kenyon and Robert McConnaughay all voted to repeal the ban after missing the December vote. Those first-time votes were joined by flipped votes by board members Hollie Lindgren and John Mayer. Both voted in favor of the ban in December, but sided with the repeal Tuesday. Those changes resulted in a 17 to 7 vote in favor of the repeal.

Board members Bonnie Kunkel and Jennifer Laesch voted "present" after saying they were torn on the issue. Kunkel said she feared for her political future in not supporting the repeal as local unions wanted her to.

"I have counted you as my friend in the past, but I don't know what will happen after today," Kunkel said to the dozens of union members in the audience. "I know I may have come to my own funeral today."

County board members who did take a firm position one way or the other did so only after listening to 11 speakers from the local community. Five people spoke against video gambling, including incoming board member Melisa Taylor (replacing Bill Wyatt), and former chairman candidate Jim MacRunnels.

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MacRunnels offered some of the more biting commentary of the day in citing campaign contributions from local unions to board members Jones, John Fahy, Wyatt and Chairman Karen McConnaughay. MacRunnels said that money tainted their ability to vote or participate in the debate. MacRunnels even distributed an e-mail he said was sent to county board members by local union lobbyist Kevin "Kal" Lester. The e-mail is a tirade against county board members who voted to ban video gambling and hints at political retribution.

"I guess all the $$$$$$$$$ I helped raise for Kane GOP over the 24 years I've been out there was for the self-serving with no compromise, that's OK I never forget either," the e-mail reads.

MacRunnels' reading of the e-mail was unnecessary to reveal the strong support for repealing the video gambling ban by local unions. Union workers, many of them unemployed, packed the council chambers and an overflow room.

Mark Guethle, chairman of the Kane County Democratic Party, summed up why they were there in a speech citing the 35 percent unemployment rate of local residents in the construction industry.


"To repeal an ordinance and support a jobs bill that was created by our general assembly and by our governor is what we should be doing," Guethle said. "We're all for the same thing, that's job creation. Most people want to work. They just want a chance. Put our people back to work in Kane County."

That's the argument that carried sway for the majority of county board members who backed the repeal. Even Kenyon, who is also chairman of the Kane County Republican Party, found himself agreeing with Guethle.

"When I vote in favor of this, I'm not voting in favor of gambling, I'm voting for jobs," Kenyon said. "I want to put everybody back to work. Is this perfect? No. Will it solve the problem? No. But it certainly is a first step."

County board members in favor of preserving the ban tried to postpone the vote in favor of putting an advisory referendum on the November ballot. Not only did that attempt fail by a 16 to 10 vote, but the plan was shouted down by supporters of the repeal as a failure to help the unemployed. As it became clear the votes favored a repeal, county board member Jeanette Mihalec pitched a plan to divert at least a portion of the video gambling proceeds the county would receive toward funding for gambling addiction programs. That plan failed in a 13- 13 tie. Chairman McConnaughay would normally be the tiebreaker vote, but she missed the meeting to tend to her mother in the hospital.