Lake County closer to halting video gambling expansion

Lake County officials are moving ahead with plans to prohibit the expansion of video gambling in unincorporated areas.

The financial and administrative committee on Thursday recommended the full board ban new video gambling terminals at bars, restaurants and other gathering spots in the areas it oversees.

Board members will review the proposal during a committee-of-the-whole meeting Friday. The board could vote on the plan July 9.

Lake County can't regulate the number of video gambling machines in unincorporated areas, but an establishment that wants them must have a special liquor license - and the county oversees those.

"I'm not anti-gambling, but ... I think it's appropriate to put a pause on new licenses at this moment in time," said county board member Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat who leads the committee.

Illinois lawmakers legalized video gambling at bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations in 2009.

The Lake County Board initially banned the machines in unincorporated areas, but it reversed course in 2013. As of May 31, nearly 300 video gambling machines operated at 63 locations in unincorporated areas.

Last year, gamblers put nearly $181 million at risk in machines in unincorporated areas of the county, according to Illinois Gaming Board data. Those bets generated $43.2 million for Illinois and $14.6 million for the county.

The proposal comes just weeks after state gambling expansion legislation that awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker's signature included a casino in Waukegan.

Opponents of gambling expansion, including county board Chairwoman Sandy Hart, are concerned about gambling addictions and the impact on poor residents.

Hart said video gambling hasn't improved the quality of life for people in Lake County, That's her benchmark for any program or project, she said.

"I have yet to see how video gaming has done that," the Lake Bluff Democrat said.

Proponents of video gambling say the machines generate additional revenue for businesses, which translates into local jobs.

Frank insists the proposed moratorium on new video gambling machines has nothing to do with the state's casino plan. He said he and other board members have heard complaints about the proliferation of gambling in the county.

"I think it's appropriate to put a limit on it," Frank said.

If approved, the ban wouldn't apply to businesses and other locations that already have been granted video gambling licenses by the Illinois Gaming Board or that applied for such licenses before the enactment of the ordinance.

An exempted business would be allowed to operate video gambling machines if it's sold, as long as the new owner is eligible for liquor and gambling license requirements.

Any change in county rules wouldn't affect video gambling in Lake County's municipalities, which have their own rules.

Friday's review of the plan is set for at 8:30 a.m. at the central permit facility, 500 Winchester Road, Libertyville.

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Lake County Board member Paul Frank
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