County Board overturns video gambling ban

In McHenry Co. gambling ban debate, public takes sides

WOODSTOCK – Bar and restaurant owners bet on the McHenry County Board and won.

The County Board voted Tuesday evening, 15-9, to repeal its 2009 ban on video gambling in establishments that serve alcohol. The ban, which applied to unincorporated areas, brings the county into line with numerous municipalities that allow the machines.

Tuesday’s vote came after almost 90 minutes of public comment on the issue. Supporters called the ban an unfair penalty on rural establishments, while opponents said the harm of expanding gambling would outweigh the financial benefits.

Old Rivers Inn owner Bob McDaniel said Wednesday morning that he was happy with the board’s vote. He was one of several liquor establishment owners who told the County Board that any extra income that struggling businesses can reap these days is a help.

McDaniel’s establishment is on Route 14 between Harvard and Woodstock, which both allow video gambling. He said he plans to start the paperwork later this week to get the machines.

“It really can’t hurt. I told [the County Board] I don’t know if this is the answer or not. It can’t hurt. It can only help. Any extra money is appreciated at this time,” McDaniel said.

The County Board imposed its ban in December 2009 on a narrow 13-10 vote, months after state lawmakers approved the gambling expansion to help pay for a $30 billion capital bill.

Four board members – Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; and Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry – had voted for the ban in 2009 but voted Tuesday to repeal it. More than one-third of the County Board was newly elected last November, and half of the board members from 2009 no longer are serving.

Establishments that serve alcohol can have up to five of the machines. The state gets 30 percent of the proceeds and gives 5 percent back to local governments. The remaining proceeds are split between the business and the game machine operator.

McHenry County’s ban affected about 60 establishments with licenses to serve alcohol. Although the General Assembly approved video gambling almost four years ago, it was not until last fall that the machines started going live in local establishments.

Municipalities that allow video gambling also include Algonquin, Fox Lake, Fox River Grove, Hebron, Huntley, Johnsburg, Lake in the Hills, Lakemoor, Marengo, McCullom Lake, McHenry, Port Barrington, Richmond, Ringwood and Spring Grove. The largest municipalities that ban gaming are Crystal Lake and Cary.

While supporters outnumbered opponents about 2-to-1 Tuesday evening, people who wanted the ban to stay in place, such as Bobbi Pantaleo of McHenry, made their voices heard.

“I think having people dependent upon gambling machines to make their dreams come true is not the best thing to pass down to our children,” Pantaleo said.

Thirteen municipalities with boundaries in McHenry County had 166 machines in 40 establishments registered with the Illinois Gaming Board as of March 31. Those machines generated a total of $30,405 for municipal coffers.

The board last month reported almost 5,100 registered machines statewide, which generated about $4.7 million for the state and about $940,000 for local governments.

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