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Video gambling gets support from County Board committee

Unincorporated businesses’ push compels panel to act

WOODSTOCK – A repeal of the county’s ban on video gambling in unincorporated areas is headed to the full McHenry County Board next week for a vote.

Its Liquor and License Committee voted, 4-1, Monday to recommend that the County Board repeal the December 2009 ban, which it put in place shortly after the state legalized video gambling in establishments serving alcohol to help pay for a $30 billion capital bill.

Many county municipalities allow video gambling, which bar and restaurant owners in rural areas say is not only unfair but also a definite hit to their revenue. While the state approved video gambling almost four years ago, the machines just started going live in October.

Bonnie Miske is general manager of the Broken Oar in Port Barrington – which has video poker machines – and T-Bar outside of Island Lake – which falls under the county’s ban. Miske told committee members Monday that business at the Broken Oar is good, but business has been suffering at T-Bar since video gambling started.

“McHenry County doesn’t need yet another closed-down business and yet another vacant building,” Miske said.

Kief’s Reef owner Randy Kief shared a story of a group of customers who had dinner at his business in Burtons Bridge, but went to another bar to watch the Chicago Blackhawks game so their wives could play video poker.

“It’s really starting to be a problem,” Kief said.

Establishments that serve liquor can have up to five machines, provided their local government does not opt out. The state gets 30 percent of the proceeds and gives 5 percent back to local governments, with the remaining proceeds split between the business and the game machine operator.

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

Municipalities that allow video gambling include Huntley, Marengo, Harvard, McHenry, Richmond, Hebron, Johnsburg, McCullom Lake, Fox River Grove, Lake in the Hills, Spring Grove, Ringwood, Woodstock and Algonquin, which approved video gambling last week.

Miske was one of 10 speakers Monday who want the ban repealed, while three speakers want the ban kept in place. McHenry resident Joyce Story told the committee that the impact of gambling expansion is taking an unseen toll that will get worse.

“The negative impact far outweighs and far exceeds the positives that may seem to be occurring,” Story said.

A majority of the committee sided with the business owners, who since early March have been writing letters and speaking at County Board meetings to push for a repeal. Committee member Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, cast the sole opposing vote.

“I still don’t think this is appropriate for the county,” she said. “I look at it as strictly a revenue stream for the state of Illinois.”

But committee members Robert Nowak, R-Cary, Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and committee Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, support a repeal. Member Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, said she is still unsure where she stands, but voted “yes” so that the full County Board could make a decision. Draffkorn voted for the ban in 2009.
“I feel it’s unfair that some businesses are allowed to have it and some aren’t,” Nowak said.

Barring changes of heart, the fate of the repeal likely will be in the hands of the nine new County Board members elected in November. Eight of the 13 who voted for the 2009 ban are still in office, compared with only three of the 10 members who voted against it.

There were 4,353 video gambling machines registered statewide as of the end of February with the Illinois Gaming Board, up from 3,400 the previous month. There are now 134 machines registered in 12 municipalities with territory within McHenry County, which netted those governments a total of $22,816 in February.

The state received $114,073 from those machines last month, and a total of almost $3.4 million statewide.

What it means

The McHenry County Board Liquor and License Committee voted, 4-1, Monday to recommend that the board repeal its ban on video gambling in unincorporated areas.

How they voted

Committee member Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, cast the sole opposing vote. Voting “yes” were committee Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, and members Robert Nowak, R-Cary, Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake.

What’s next

The full County Board is expected to vote on the repeal at its next meeting at 7 p.m. April 16 at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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