Kane Co. grants drying up along with riverboat profits

 
 

Shrinking profits for Elgin's Grand Victoria Riverboat will fuel the lowest total amount of riverboat grants ever awarded by Kane County.

The county board's executive committee locked in slightly less than $750,000 in riverboat grants for external agencies Wednesday. The grant money plummeted below $1 million for the first time two years ago. Last year, the county's riverboat committee recommended less than $900,000 in grants.

The dwindling total reflects a smaller check from the riverboat than county officials anticipated this year. The budget called for $3.1 million from the riverboat. The county only received $2.6 million. The county always sets aside the bulk of its cut to help fund its own operations, but that's become an increasingly precarious funding source in recent years. County officials will decide how to distribute the smaller amount to internal departments in July.

A study by Kane County staff points to video gambling in local municipalities, increased competition from other casinos and an overall sluggish economy as reasons for Grand Victoria's lower profits. However, despite an increasing number of establishments offering video gambling, Grand Victoria representatives have told the county they expect earnings may increase as much as 4 percent this year, which would boost the cut going to riverboat grants next year.

County board member Kurt Kojzarek said there is no chance the board will consider repealing video gambling.

"The 13 licenses we issued aren't impacting the Grand Victoria," he said. "It's the 1,200-plus throughout incorporated Kane County that are hurting the Grand Victoria. As long as the municipalities allow it, the unincorporated parts of the county need to also have it in order to compete on a level playing field."

County board members have discussed the need to reduce reliance on the riverboat money for several years. Actual movement toward less reliance has been incremental. For example, one recent directive involves shying away from grant applications that involve funding operations for a nonprofit or local government. But five of the 29 requests this year will fund salaries and benefits for external organizations. The top two grant recipients, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Kane County Forest Preserve, are also deeply tied to county-related operations and projects. County board members also serve as forest preserve commissioners.

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As in recent years, some of the grant recipients have some associated political intrigue.

The SciTech Museum in Aurora will receive $37,305 for an outdoor science park expansion. The executive director of the museum is Arlene Hawks, wife of Dick Hawks, one of Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen's political advisers.

The Corbella Clinic will receive $7,639 for new flooring. The anti-abortion women's clinic is one of 18 health organizations suing Gov. Bruce Rauner over the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that became law this year. The law requires anti-abortion health providers to provide information about abortion options to pregnant women.

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