Griffin: Video gambling blamed for casino attendance drop
Among the tips, suggestions and questions we receive, readers often ask for an update about stories we've reported on in the past.
Every so often, we'll pull those together for something we like to call watchdog kibble.
In this batch, Wayne Township taxpayers don't want to keep covering the cost of an extra sheriff's patrol, Illinois gambling revenue is up but future revenue stability is in question, and an update on who pays for judges' robes in DuPage County. Spoiler alert! Taxpayers still do.
People in unincorporated Wayne Township don't want to pay more property taxes to keep a sheriff's deputy patrolling their neighborhoods, now that DuPage County is passing more of the costs on to them.
That's the result of a survey by township officials.
Currently, those residents pay extra property taxes each year to support the cost of keeping a DuPage County sheriff's deputy dedicated to patrolling the unincorporated areas.
But county board members in recent years have begun charging more for the service than the tax is generating. So a few weeks ago, township officials sent out roughly 1,600 surveys asking residents of unincorporated areas if they would favor a tax hike to continue paying for the patrol.
Township Supervisor Tom Arends said 301 surveys were returned voting "no." Meanwhile, 273 surveys supported the tax hike that could cost the owner of a $300,000 home an extra $43 a year.
"It's not as decisive as we'd hoped, but it's fairly clear," Arends said.
Ultimately, the four-member township board is the final arbiter of the tax levy for the extra patrol. The survey results are nonbinding.
The county board had asked for a decision by the end of this month, but the current contract with the township doesn't end until next May. Arends said the board probably won't make a decision at this month's meeting.
"We're looking at all our options," he said. "We don't want to rush into any decisions that could possibly affect the safety of our residents."
Bloomingdale, Milton and York townships also have special tax levies to fund sheriff's patrols in unincorporated areas. Officials in those townships did not seek voter input about the future of the program.
This year, the county charged townships on average about $88,000 for an extra patrol. Next year, the cost would climb to almost $108,000, according to county correspondence with the townships.
Illinois casinos brought in 1.6 million fewer visitors this year, which reduced the tax revenue generated by riverboats.
Lobbyists for the state's 10 casinos blame the proliferation of video gambling for the $24 million drop in riverboat tax revenue. Tax revenue from casinos is tied to both its gross receipts and admissions.
"It's cannibalizing the riverboats," said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "The ones playing the video gaming machines are the ones that used to go to the riverboats."
While the $114 million in tax revenue generated by video gambling more than made up for the loss of riverboat tax revenue, Swoik argued jobs are in danger on riverboats as fewer customers board.
"Places that have video gambling are not making up for what casinos are losing in employees," he said. "What that means for the state is that there's going to be a point of diminishing returns."
Riverboat casinos brought in $321 million in the fiscal year that ended in June. That's down nearly 7 percent from the $345 million the casinos generated for the state in 2013, according to a report by the legislature's Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability.
Only Rivers Casino in Des Plaines made more money this year than in 2013, according to the report. Rivers reported $421.5 million in gross receipts compared to $410.1 million the year before, despite a decline of roughly 200,000 admissions.
"There are 18,000 machines out there that aren't in a casino," Swoik said. "We're limited to 1,200 in a casino, so that's the equivalent of 15 new casinos in the state."
Swoik argued the state is not doing a good job of regulating businesses that install the machines. Operations are supposed to be limited to specific business types. But he said video gambling machines have been installed in "laundromats and a scuba diving shop."
Statewide gambling revenues were up 7.5 percent this year and brought in more than $1.2 billion total.
Who pays for the black robes judges wear on the bench? It depends where you live.
Three years ago, the Daily Herald uncovered invoices that showed DuPage County taxpayers were covering the cost of robes for the county's cadre of judges.
Today, taxpayers are still footing the bill.
According to records on DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan's website, taxpayers spent about $800 in each of the last three years on robes for two judges each year. Since 2004, DuPage taxpayers have spent nearly $16,000 on 44 robes, according to county financial records. That's an average of more than $360 per robe.
DuPage County Chief Judge Jack Elsner declined to comment.
Circuit Court judges in Illinois are paid almost $200,000 a year, some of the highest salaries in the country for the post.
Judges in McHenry and Kane counties use money from their "Marriage Fund" to cover the costs of new robes or alterations. Revenue from that fund is generated from fees the judges charge to officiate courthouse weddings.
In Lake County, the county bar association buys new judges their robes.
And in Cook County, the judges buy their own robes.
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