Court upholds video gambling, but suburbs aren't so sure

  • A sweeping plan that would put video gambling machines in bars throughout the suburbs and Illinois remained on track Monday after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law could stand.

    A sweeping plan that would put video gambling machines in bars throughout the suburbs and Illinois remained on track Monday after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law could stand.

  • Bans on video gambling

    Graphic: Bans on video gambling (click image to open)

 
 
Updated 7/12/2011 10:07 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois Supreme Court ruling Monday keeps controversial video gambling machines in play as a way to pay for billions of dollars in construction projects, but many suburbs have already declared the idea a loser.

Though regulators are far from setting rules for use of the machines, officials in many suburbs have already opted out, banning the machines in bars and saying they don't want some of the societal stigmas that can accompany gambling.

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"It's not the type of thing that was consistent with our town and our town's image," said Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor, whose village has banned the machines.

Dozens of suburbs also have banned the machines for similar reasons, leaving others to become potential gambling draws with video gambling in bars, restaurants and truck stops.

The court's ruling comes as Gov. Pat Quinn is weighing a plan to put 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park and five new casinos throughout Illinois.

Mayor George Pradel in Naperville, where video gambling machines also are banned, said if residents want to gamble, they can go to Hollywood Casino in Aurora.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I have never received positive vibes from the residents here that we should have gambling," he said.

Cook, Lake, DuPage and McHenry counties have outlawed video games that pay out cash in unincorporated areas.

Still, many other suburbs have yet to make a decision, meaning the eventual implementation of gambling in bars could have a patchwork effect on the suburbs.

The capital construction plan lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved in 2009 raised various vehicle fees and taxes shortly afterward.

But the video gambling remains stalled as the Illinois Gaming Board works to, among other things, set specific rules and regulations about how the machines could operate.

For that reason, some suburbs have declined to take sides so far. Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson said doing so before seeing all the rules would be "premature" but said officials would likely discuss the issue eventually.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod agreed.

"We haven't ruled it out," he said. "We haven't ruled it in."

Addison Mayor Larry Hartwig said officials there banned the machines but might revisit the issue once the real rules come down.

"Maybe part of it is the fear of the unknown," he said. "What is the consequence going to be?"

With dozens of neighboring suburbs throughout the area taking various stances on the issue, could each neighbor's decision cause conflicts as one town's bars bustle with gamblers while another's lose out?

Larson says Schaumburg's decision won't be affected by what its neighbors do.

But Hartwig said Addison might look to see what's happening in the surrounding areas.

"I don't think we're going to be the Lone Ranger one way or another," he said.

In the meantime, the court's decision Monday means big suburban building projects like the Algonquin bypass project in McHenry County and the widening of Butterfield Road in DuPage County will go on as planned.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz challenged the state's huge construction program in court because one of the new taxes, on liquor, hit his Schaumburg-based distributor.

He argued the program was unconstitutional because of the way lawmakers approved it. Wirtz said the legislation was too wide-ranging to be legal.

But the 7-0 decision beat that challenge back.

"On the Act's face, all of the provisions have a natural and logical connection to the single subject of capital projects," the opinion reads.

And the opinion quotes remarks from lawmakers during Senate debates, including comments from Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, to show that lawmakers intended the legislation for one purpose -- Illinois construction projects.

"While we have the utmost respect for our state and its infrastructure needs, we have equal respect for Illinois residents, who as consumers, are now saddled with these unfair taxes," reads a statement from Wirtz Beverage Group. "The Supreme Court has spoken and while we are disappointed with their decision, we respect it."