Why video gambling will likely remain legal in St. Charles regardless of April election
Opponents of video gambling in St. Charles have one choice on the April ballot, but that may not be enough to repeal the city's ordinance.
Candidates for aldermen in the second and fourth wards debated the future of video gambling in the city at a recent Daily Herald Editorial Board meeting. City aldermen approved video gambling in October 2015 by a 6-5 vote. Mayor Ray Rogina cast the tiebreaker. The ordinance will expire in April 2018 unless aldermen act to renew it.
Four of the five aldermen who voted to legalize video gambling (Dan Stellato, Bill Turner, Todd Bancroft and Ed Bessner) will all return to the city council, as will Rogina. Second Ward Alderman Art Lemke is the only "yes" vote who will encounter an opponent on the April ballot. That candidate, former mayoral hopeful Jake Wyatt, is a firm opponent of video gambling.
"I would have voted 'no,' Wyatt said. "And I will vote 'no' when it comes up again. I don't think it has any business in our downtown area. If people want to gamble, we have two casinos nearby. So why do we have to roll over for the city to make peanuts?"
Wyatt's comments came in reference to the city's portion of the video gambling profits since the first machines came online in the city in September 2016. The latest figures, reflecting gambling activity from September through January for 44 devices at 10 establishments, shows the city made $18,319 as its share. Wyatt said that return is not worth the cost.
"I'm not saying it brings in crime," Wyatt said. "I'm saying the people that normally go to video poker are the people who can't afford to lose it to begin with."
Lemke remains supportive of video gambling. He said fears of residents falling into bankruptcy and homes falling into foreclosure throughout the city have not materialized. The ordinance's limitations on signs advertising video gambling have warded off any transformation of the downtown into a Las Vegas-style neon strip. He doesn't believe the city has suffered any tarnish on its image. As far as the profits, it's too early to tell.
"The city has had a long-term plan of keeping property taxes stable," Lemke said. "Every incremental dollar will help us in one respect or another. I never expected this would be a gold mine."
City officials predicted before legalizing video gambling that once all the establishments install the machines that want them and are qualified to have them, the city's cut could be between $100,000 and $500,000. As of March 3, the city was poised to see 18 establishments operate up to five video gambling machines, including the Brown's Chicken on Route 38.
In the Fourth Ward, incumbent Jo Krieger is stepping aside to run for city treasurer. She was one of the five "no" votes in October 2015. The candidates seeking to replace her, Lora Vitek and David Pietryla, support video gambling as far as letting the experiment play out longer.
Vitek said she wants to see more revenue reports about the city's portion of the video gambling proceeds and any associated crime reports before determining if any changes to the ordinance are needed. She does support signage limitations.
"As far as crime rates, has that increased?" Vitek asked. "What are the negative impacts? Have there been any?"
Pietryla said he has no personal issue with video gambling. He sees it as a relatively quiet presence in the city, so much so that he didn't even realize for a period that the machines were legal. He supports using video gambling profits to support existing businesses and recruit new establishments.
"Right now, I don't have a problem with it," Pietryla said. "I'd like to see more data. How impactful is any crime we've seen resulting from it? Even if it's just a couple of thousand dollars here and there, as long as there's reasonable restrictions, I think we can continue to move forward."