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Some municipalities place bets with video gaming

Instead of driving to the nearest casino, residents throughout McHenry County could find gaming opportunities at local bars by the end of the year.

Within recent months, communities across the county have debated the merits of allowing video gaming machines at liquor-licensed establishments.

The state approved the Video Gaming Act in 2009, making electronic gaming such as video poker legal in establishments such as bars, truck stops and veterans posts. The law designates the Illinois Gaming Board with the responsibility of implementing and regulating gaming.

State regulators have indicated the application approval process for video terminal operators, technicians, establishments and third-party contractors could be finalized and ready to “go live” in August.

The state Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn ushered the Video Gaming Act as a way to help pay for a $31 billion capital projects program.

City code in Harvard reflects the state law legalizing video gaming machines, said City Administrator Dave Nelson.

“We did talk about [possibly opting out] two years ago, and we decided to leave it the way it was,” he said.

But the state’s passage of the act drew controversy to local governments for the negative effect the convenience of the gambling may spread.

More than 150 communities in Illinois have banned electronic gambling.

Crystal Lake is among them. The City Council took up the issue at a meeting earlier this month and voted unanimously against video gaming within city limits. Even if the city loses the opportunity to gain an estimated $170,000 annually in gambling revenue, legalizing electronic gambling is not the best way to seek additional revenue, council members said.

A legislative research panel has estimated that video gaming – depending on how many communities legalize it and eligible establishments apply – could generate anywhere between $150 million to $500 million annually statewide.

In Woodstock, the issue wasn’t even brought to a vote. After discussions about video gaming in workshop sessions, city officials decided to drop the consideration and maintain prohibition.

McHenry could take a vote on electronic gaming at a City Council meeting next month.

A number of neighboring communities have reversed course on previous gambling bans in light of local economic pressures and interest from businesses.

Earlier this month, Marengo and Huntley approved proposals allowing electronic gambling.

During its May meeting, the Marengo City Council reviewed the state’s gaming regulations that call for licensed establishments to house the gaming terminals in a separate space – away from the general area where patrons gather – and to prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from using the terminals.

Weeks after Marengo’s approval, Huntley officials began discussing how to move forward with its prohibition on video gaming.

Earlier this month, the Village Board voted in favor of lifting the ban. Officials have said the move is meant to extend the choice to its business owners and other eligible organizations.

Plus, the village could receive additional revenues from the sales tax on the net income generated by the terminal machines. While the revenues are primarily split in half between the business and terminal operator, the state collects 25 percent and local governments receive 5 percent.

Last week, Spring Grove was one of the latest municipalities to allow video gaming at bars located within its jurisdiction. But the approval, preceded by heated debate, was hardly unanimous. Village President Mark Eisenberg had to cast his vote to break the 3-3 tie.

Eisenberg said the vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the board “being in favor of gaming, per se.”

“It’s to keep all the businesses on the same page and not give our businesses in Spring Grove a disadvantage,” Eisenberg said. “It has nothing to do with it being whether we believe in it or not. We’re strictly just trying to give the businesses the same playing field as the surrounding communities [such as Fox Lake and Johnsburg].”

Fox Lake officials also passed an ordinance permitting video gaming last week.

The McCullom Lake Village Board met earlier this month and tentatively supported the move toward video gambling. However, the administrative staff says the board is reviewing details on implementation.

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