Group: End video gambling ban

WOODSTOCK – A group of bar and restaurant owners are petitioning the McHenry County Board to lift its 3-year-old ban on video gambling in liquor establishments.

Twenty-one businesses in unincorporated areas sent a joint letter to board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, and the Liquor and License Committee asking them to lift a ban narrowly approved on a 13-10 vote in December 2009. A resolution to repeal the ban has been drafted and could face a committee vote in April.

The letter states that the ban unfairly puts unincorporated businesses at a disadvantage because most municipalities in the county have allowed video gambling. Also, the authors state, the county is losing potential revenue – local governments get a 5 percent share of the net tax on video gambling.

“Many neighboring communities have made the right choice to lift bans on video gaming, and we are left to suffer the bad economy and the competition of establishments in neighboring communities where gaming is permitted. Once we lose a customer and that customer gets comfortable in another location that offers gaming – it’s hard, if not impossible, to get that customer back,” the letter states.

The committee met Monday but tabled discussion on a repeal to its April meeting because two of the five members – Robert Nowak, R-Cary, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake – were absent, committee Chairman Ken Koehler said.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill in July 2009 allowing establishments that serve liquor to have up to five of the machines as a way to help pay for a $30 billion capital bill, but McHenry County and other governments rushed to take advantage of an opt-out clause to ban it.

However, video gambling got off to a very slow start – it was not until last October that video gambling machines started going live in qualifying establishments.

Almost 3,400 video gambling machines were registered with the Illinois Gaming Board as of January, netting $2.45 million for the state and $489,640 for local governments.

The 116 machines registered in 10 municipalities with boundaries inside McHenry County netted a total of $17,036 for their local governments that month, according to a gaming board report.

The state gets 30 percent of the proceeds and gives the 5 percent back to local governments, while the remaining proceeds are split between the business and the game machine operator.

Crystal Lake has joined McHenry County in a ban. Communities that allow video gambling are Fox River Grove, Woodstock, Harvard, Huntley, McHenry, Johnsburg and Spring Grove. Woodstock had a ban but reversed it.

McHenry County’s ban affects 60 unincorporated establishments with licenses to serve liquor.

Barring any changes of heart, supporters of repealing the ban could face a challenge in finding the County Board votes to do so. Only three of the 10 County Board members who voted in 2009 against banning video gambling are still in office, compared with eight of the 13 who voted for a ban.

Quinn on Monday made good on a long-anticipated veto of a bill allowing for five new land-based casinos and slot machines at racetracks in the state.

What it means

A McHenry County Board committee next month will discuss a resolution aimed at repealing its 3-year-old ban on video gambling in liquor establishments in unincorporated areas.

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