Gurnee mayor: Lake County gambling vote 'stupid'
Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik labeled a vote by the Lake County Board to allow video gambling in bars and restaurants in unincorporated areas as "stupid," saying it won't boost the local economy.
County board members this week voted 11-9 to repeal a ban on video gambling machines, opening the door for at least 87 establishments with liquor licenses in the unincorporated areas.
Kovarik said the village has no plans to seek a repeal of its ordinance prohibiting video gambling at restaurants, taverns, fraternal organizations and truck stops. However, the county board's move to allow the machines means gambling options can wind up touching each side of Gurnee's borders.
Waukegan, which borders Gurnee on the east, has video gaming. Kovarik scoffed at the latest Illinois Gaming Board report showing players wagered nearly $4.4 million with the machines at 11 Waukegan establishments in July -- a cut of $17,516 for the city.
She contends the $4.4 million would have been better spent on goods and services, helping to create more jobs and boosting the local economy with sales tax receipts. She said the video gambling expansion approved by the county board will further erode the local economy.
"It was the stupidest thing the county could have done," Kovarik said Wednesday. "It was stupid, period."
About 48 percent of Gurnee's general fund revenue comes from sales tax. Kovarik said she doesn't believe residents want the village to become dependent on gambling revenue at the expense of sales tax.
Gurnee Trustee Don Wilson agreed there isn't a need for the devices in the village.
"There has never been a resident that has come to me wanting video gaming in the village of Gurnee," Wilson said.
Grayslake also has video gaming towns Round Lake and Round Lake Heights on its edge, along with unincorporated Lake County. Grayslake Mayor Rhett Taylor said he doesn't intend to ask trustees to consider repealing the village's ban on video gambling in an effort to match the nearby competition.
Taylor said Grayslake's liquor license holders were surveyed in 2009 and did not indicate a desire for the machines.
"I really don't think it fits with the family image of Grayslake," Taylor added.
During discussion of the issue Tuesday, Lake County Board member Linda Pedersen of Antioch acknowledged there are communities that don't want video gambling. She and board member Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside worked to bring the issue to a vote.
"That's their choice," Pedersen said of the video gaming foes. "They can deal with it. They're big boys. Let them handle it."
Rob Hardman, president/CEO of Blarney Island, the self-proclaimed "Greatest Boating Bar in the World," said he was not in favor of gambling and understood why opposition exists. But since its approval, statistics have shown bars with video gambling have increased revenue, he said.
"It's a killer for those who don't have it," he told the county board before the vote. "We are at a distinct disadvantage by being in the county."
County board member Steve Carlson of unincorporated Grandwood Park, which is on Gurnee's western border, was against video gambling. He said he expects more Lake County towns to follow suit and allow the machines.
"If we do this today, the whole county, the majority of it, will go this way. It's inevitable. What do we want this county to be?" he asked.
Video gambling was part of a package of revenue generators for a $31 billion public works initiative signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in July 2009.