Editorial: Don't ease conflict rules for video gambling

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 6/14/2013 9:26 AM
  • Daily Herald File PhotoA patron plays a video gambling machine in Hoffman Estates.

    Daily Herald File PhotoA patron plays a video gambling machine in Hoffman Estates.

A student who studies hard for a test wouldn't want someone to copy her answers. That's what rules against cheating are for.

An inventor would want to protect his idea from rivals. That's what patent laws are for.

Likewise, the makers of video gambling products in Illinois want fairness when bringing innovations to market. And there's a law to help ensure that -- not to mention help control an industry already viewed as ripe for shady dealings.

That is, unless the governor signs legislation just passed by the General Assembly.

The bill removes a provision in the Video Gaming Act that keeps the central system vendor -- the contractor who controls video gambling operations and data in the state -- from holding video gambling licenses. The change, backed by Democratic Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan, was made to an otherwise common sense bill that regulates the fast-growing industry.

This is a loophole that not only discourages innovation but could lead to unfair and unethical practices, and Gov. Pat Quinn should reject that part of the bill.

The conflict is obvious. The vendor would have an incentive to allow a competitive advantage to one licensee (its own) over another. Information would be in the hands of a gaming company (its own) that could use it against other companies.

The proposal surfaced after the central vendor, Georgia-based Scientific Games, made a bid to buy WMS Industries Inc., a slot machine maker in Waukegan and one of about a dozen licensed operators in Illinois.

WMS Vice President Steve Angelo told State Government Writer Mike Riopell that similar practices in other states have worked well, and that the coalition of video gambling companies raising the issue is doing so for competitive reasons.

Maybe so. But on the first point, this is not other states but corruption-prone Illinois, and on the second, why shouldn't these companies seek a level playing field? Who would have a fox watch the hen house?

As for Link, he believes regulators can handle the added responsibility of ensuring WMS is not treated with any favoritism. "They still have a complete oversight of all of this," he said.

We're not so sure. The Illinois Gaming Board has been furiously working to keep up with the thousands of requests for new machines since video gambling got the green light last fall. In March, board Chairman Aaron Jaffe told The Associated Press that the agency is understaffed.

Let's be clear. We haven't been fans of video gambling expansion and have encouraged each town to weigh the pros and cons carefully. The new industry is ready to explode, with 6,700 machines up and running and 20,000 more expected in the coming years. We've already stated our concerns about oversight. Regulators cannot possibly monitor every move of video gambling's central vendor.

Quinn has an opportunity to assure video gambling operators who follow the rules that they have a chance at success. We urge him to take it.

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