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Our View: At least listen to businesses in Crystal Lake

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Crystal Lake bar and restaurant owners look around them, and they see other establishments outfitted with video gaming machines.

Unincorporated McHenry County allows video gambling. Cary allows it. So does Algonquin and Lake in the Hills. Ditto for Woodstock.

Illinois legalized video gambling in 2009 to generate revenue to pay off the bonds for its $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now! capital plan. Machines didn’t go live in McHenry County until late 2012.

Establishments that serve alcohol, fraternal or veterans organizations and truck stops can have up to five of the machines. The state gets 30 percent of the proceeds and gives 5 percent of that back to local governments, which also can charge an annual permit fee for each machine. The remaining 70 percent of the proceeds are split between the machine owner and the establishment.

Crystal Lake bar and restaurant owners have been denied video gaming in the past. The city has steadfastly refused to lift its ban on video gaming. Those owners are asking for a public hearing to convince Mayor Aaron Shepley and City Council members to allow video gaming.

Paul Leech, owner of The Cottage, formally approached officials asking for an October public hearing to discuss the issue and give restaurant owners a chance to present their case. He was supported with a petition by owners from Brink Street Bar and Grill, Fire Bar and Grill, Williams Street Public House, Coleman’s, Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen and more.

Shepley said no City Council members directed staff to put the subject on a future agenda and no discussions between any members on the request have taken place.

We have maintained our opposition to video gaming because of what it can do to the gamblers. The cost of helping these establishments get additional revenue needs to be balanced with the harm it could be causing an individual with an addiction and a family who may not be able to afford losing the dollars pumped into a machine with an often false hope of a big payout.

However, we recognize that Crystal Lake bar and restaurant owners are now at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts in other communities.

At the very least, city officials should hold a public hearing on the issue. It should be conducted with open minds and with the possibility of leveling the playing field for its businesses.

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