Winfield goes all-in for video gaming

Vote repeals local ban on video poker

 
 
Updated 3/16/2012 1:34 PM

Winfield village board members weighed sin and vice against adding money to the village's road fund Thursday night. And when they pushed their chips to the middle, the hopes of new revenue won.

After hearing from local church leaders, business owners and community members, trustees voted 4-2 to repeal a local ban on video gambling machines that Illinois legalized in 2009 to help raise money for capital improvements.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In July 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn approved a $31 billion capital improvement package that allowed video gambling. Still, towns have the ability to outlaw the machines in their communities.

At the time, Winfield officials said a local ban might be prudent because there were unanswered questions about how the state was going to regulate video gambling. Several newly elected members clearly feel differently in 2012.

"For our village, we have a possible opportunity for Winfield to be a test site for the state of Illinois. And as such, it's nice to see we have an active village board that is on top of the current issues, ready and willing to address topics like this for the entire village," said Trustee James Hughes. "For the government to tell citizens what's moral and what's not, I have difficulty seeing how that is proper for our government to control our rights as citizens. And as for the judgments on whether this is right or wrong, I'll leave them to God."

Bob Biven, a member of the Winfield Community United Methodist Church, pleaded with trustees to keep the ban in place. Repealing it, he said, would not be in the best interest of the citizens.

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"Gambling is something that tempts and appeals to our less desirable nature, but it doesn't affect us all the same," Bivens said. "The people most likely to be affected are the people that can't afford it."

Trustee Tony Reyes, however, said the village should benefit if someone chooses to "have some adult beverages" and play a video game while watching football at a local establishment on a Sunday afternoon.

"I have a strong feeling that the risks aren't as great as you think they are," said Trustee Tony Reyes, pointing out that lottery tickets are sold in numerous locations in the village and that local churches host bingo and Vegas nights. "Gaming is gaming. It's not meant to be an addictive activity, but people get addicted to anything. To say we shouldn't do it because there's somebody who might have a problem, is not the right approach to this at all."

Trustees Jack Bajor and Erik Spande voted against repealing the ban. Spande first called, unsuccessfully, for the issue to be tabled for two months so residents and trustees could study it more and possibly give residents an opportunity to put the question on the November ballot. Bajor declined to comment.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

According to the state law, counties and towns that allow video gambling will receive 5 percent of a machine's profit. The state will receive 25 percent, while establishment owners and the terminal operators evenly split the rest.

Winfield officials say four establishments in the village could be eligible to install up to five video gambling machines.

It's estimated that an establishment with the maximum of five machines could generate up to $11,250 a year for the village. So if all four Winfield locations had the devices, the village's share of the revenue could be about $45,000 annually.

The proposal was also unanimously recommended by the finance committee for consideration by the village board as part of the discussion on generating additional revenues for road funding.

Gamble: Village could gain $45,000 annually

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