Some suburbs take second look at video gambling
Officials in some suburbs where it's banned say it may be time to reconsider
Kane County and Winfield may have been among the first to repeal bans on video gambling, but they almost certainly won't be the last.
A sampling of area communities that voted to ban video gambling shows at least some are interested in revisiting the issue -- and the revenue it could generate -- once the state begins handing out licenses later this year.
"Our ban wasn't because we were against the gambling per se," Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski said.
Instead, the driving force behind the ban her village adopted in December 2009 was the number of unanswered questions about how Illinois was going to implement and regulate video gambling, which the state legalized that year to raise $31 billion for capital improvements.
Rather than deal with unknowns, Smolinski said Roselle chose to outlaw the machines until after the Illinois Gaming Board finished drafting rules and regulations.
"We're waiting for the state to get its act together on that," Smolinski said. "Once they do, then we will address the issue. We'll either rescind the ban or keep it."
Winfield already has made that decision.
The small DuPage County town joined Kane County several weeks ago in lifting its initial ban.
With limited options for new revenue, trustees say the village can't afford to pass up the opportunity to make an estimated $45,000 annually from video gambling machines at restaurants and bars.
Counties and towns that allow such gambling will receive 5 percent of each machine's profit. The state will receive 25 percent, while establishment owners and the terminal operators evenly split the rest.
"Even if we only make $20,000, it's better than zero," Trustee Tim Allen said. "That could pay for one part-time employee at village hall. We need part-time employees at village hall."
Kane County repealed its ban in May 2010, just five months after the county board passed it. The change gives eligible businesses in unincorporated portions of the county permission to install machines as soon as the state begins issuing licenses.
Gene O'Shea, spokesman for the Illinois Gaming Board, said as many as 15,000 locations statewide are expected to seek licenses once applications become available. The target is to have the first machines appear in the third or fourth quarter of the year.
Even with the rollout approaching, the number of communities adopting bans continues to grow. Last week, Schaumburg approved a ban to prevent 115 businesses in the village from automatically becoming eligible for video gambling machines.
Some communities remain undecided, including Bartlett, which has been sponsoring a series of meetings to get feedback from residents and business owners.
As for communities with existing bans, many -- including Bloomingdale, Campton Hills, West Chicago and DuPage County -- said they have no intention of repealing them.
"There has been no interest expressed on the part of any of our elected officials to revisit this issue," St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte said. "I don't anticipate any in the near future."
Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk said video gambling simply doesn't fit the character of his community. He said Wheaton imposed its ban without any debate.
Mayor Jeffery Schielke said Batavia hasn't even talked about video gambling since imposing its ban in November 2009.
"I think we're pretty close to (riverboats in) both Aurora and Elgin," Schielke said. "So there's plenty of gambling opportunities for anybody who wants to gamble."
Still, mayors in some towns aren't ready to totally shut the door.
Like Roselle, Itasca imposed its ban because of the lack of information in late 2009 about what the rules and regulations for video gambling would be.
"No one has been telling me to revisit it," Village President Jeff Pruyn said. "But I think once they start getting the machines, we should probably look at it and then make a ruling."
With a recently opened off-track betting parlor in town, Villa Park Village President Tom Cullerton says he's personally not opposed to the expansion of gambling in his community or the state.
While there's been no talk of repealing Villa Park's video gambling ban, Cullerton said he wouldn't have a problem with the village board revisiting the issue.
"I would look at it again," said Cullerton, adding that he doesn't speak for the entire board. "But it would have to be worth our while because the regulation of it would fall on us. It would have to produce more dollars than it costs to regulate."
If Winfield ends up standing alone as the only DuPage County town to lift its video gambling ban, officials there say it wouldn't be a bad thing.
"I would be OK with the towns around us keeping their bans in place," Trustee James Hughes said. "That gives Winfield an opportunity to draw some of their residents and citizens that otherwise might go to their establishments."