Aurora may reverse video gambling ban
Gambling in Aurora could spread outside the walls of Hollywood Casino and into bars, veterans posts and other establishments if a proposal before the city council gains approval.
Alderman will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday in city hall to consider an ordinance to allow businesses with liquor licenses to install up to five video gambling terminals, each for an annual city licensing fee of $100.
If half of the 98 businesses that hold liquor licenses install the maximum number of machines, Finance Director Brian Caputo said the city could collect $550,000 each year in fees.
The ordinance, which would overturn a video gaming ban that has been on the books for years, is moving to the council with the backing of Mayor Tom Weisner, but without a recommendation from the finance committee. The committee discussed video gambling Aug. 13, but members thought all 12 aldermen should weigh in before the city takes a stance on whether it should be expanded into bars, restaurants, fraternal or veterans establishments and truck stops.
Alderman and finance committee member Abby Schuler said forwarding the topic to the entire council will allow other aldermen to delve into issues related to possible gaming expansion.
"It's not up to us to say 'this is the automatic position,'" finance committee chairman and Alderman-at-Large Bob O'Connor said.
O'Connor said he doesn't approve of what he called the state legislature's continued use of gambling to solve financial problems, so he's unsure if reversing the city's policy on video gambling is a good idea.
"I have divided feelings about it myself," he said.
Weisner and city staff members are recommending the city allow video gambling now that the Illinois Gaming Board has established an electronic network for monitoring the activity, said Carie Anne Ergo, Aurora's chief management officer.
"The city of Aurora, with a casino in town, had already approved of gaming in the community," she said.
Hollywood Casino representatives told city officials they would not actively oppose the expansion of video gambling, Ergo said. Neither does the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, which represents six of the state's 10 casinos, including Hollywood's Aurora and Joliet locations.
"We think it will have some impact on the casinos, but it will be minimal," said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "We're not opposed to (video gaming), we just wanted to make sure it was limited and there were not a lot of mini-casinos out there."
Restaurant and bar owners have told city staff they want to offer video gambling to their clients as an extra diversion in a down economy.
"They want to be able to attract patrons," Ergo said.
To get the machines, establishments with city liquor licenses also would have to be approved by the state. They must be 1,000 feet away from the casino and 100 feet away from a school or place of worship, and machines only may be operated during hours when alcohol consumption is allowed. The state also prohibits video gambling terminals from directly dispensing cash to winners; they must instead issue a ticket that can be turned in for the amount of money won.
In the Aurora area, communities including Geneva, North Aurora and Sugar Grove have decided to allow video gambling, while Batavia, Naperville and St. Charles have banned it.