Local

McHenry County towns consider video gaming, community interests

LAKE IN THE HILLS – Paula Yensen said she started hearing residents’ concerns over video gaming through letters and conversations as soon as she rejoined the Village Board last year.

“The conversation I’ve been a part of is, ‘We live in a very family-friendly community,’ ” Yensen said. “What can we do to have that kind of discussion when people come forward with their plans?”

Yensen was one of several officials in Lake in the Hills expressing concerns about the recent influx of development proposals that had video gaming as a central aspect.

After an ad hoc meeting to discuss video gaming policy, the Village Board passed new regulations that raised yearly per-terminal fees from $100 to $500 and established minimum space requirements for businesses seeking video gaming in the future. Crystal Lake made news in April by reversing its ban on video gaming with a restrictive ordinance, but it’s not the only municipal government that has weighed video gaming recently.

Illinois legalized video gaming in 2009 to help generate revenue to pay off the bonds for a $31 billion capital plan, although the machines didn’t start appearing in local establishments until late 2012.

Today, Lakewood is the only municipal government in McHenry County that bans it.

Several local governments have discussed their policies on video gaming lately, seeking a balance between the economic benefits video gaming can provide for local businesses and the maintenance of a family-friendly atmosphere in their communities.

Attorney Brad Stewart of the law firm Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle, who is the Lake in the Hills village attorney, said the December 2014 court ruling in Accel Entertainment Gaming, LLC v. Village of Elmwood Park likely spurred some of the conversations about how to control the spread of video gaming.

In ruling in favor of the municipality, the court indicated that towns have the ability to implement additional regulations on video gaming, Stewart said.

“These were burning questions at the municipal level: Can we say you can only have this many establishments? Can we say you can only have this many machines in this establishment?” Stewart said. “In the Elmwood Park case, the First District Appellate Court pretty firmly said yes, you can.”

Lake in the Hills trustees discussed several options before settling on the new space requirements. Yensen said she had called other nearby towns to find out their fees and policies on video gaming and felt an ordinance could help prevent oversaturation of the machines in small areas.

The village currently has 34 terminals in eight establishments, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.

Village President Paul Mulcahy said he was pleased with the solution, which he hopes will discourage businesses that are solely focused on video gaming.

“It made it where, if you want more than a couple of machines, you’ve got to have a primary business and make video gaming the secondary,” Mulcahy said. “I think that’s what we expected when we approved video gaming, and that’s not necessarily what we’re seeing.”

In Cary, which has 25 gaming terminals at five restaurants, staff asked village trustees in March whether they would like to expand their general video gaming policy, which only is to allow video gaming at businesses where it is not the main draw.

The Village Board chose to maintain the current policy, despite an influx of proposals from businesses such as gas stations, convenience stores, video game cafes and barbershops that would include video gaming.

“No one in Cary is interested in having gaming be up front and center in terms of signage and use for buildings itself,” Village Administrator Chris Clark said. “As a complementary use, it’s proven effective at creating retail businesses that towns in this county demand. It’s a tool, an economic development tool.”

Woodstock’s City Council passed an ordinance in October banning video gaming signage from the exterior of buildings, with a 60-day exception for businesses with new licenses.

Mayor Brian Sager said there was community support when video gaming was initially passed, but the ordinance helped address some opponents’ concerns.

He said the ban has been met with cooperation from 21 city business owners who have video gaming, and he feels the city’s outward image has become more appealing.

“You do try to find the balance, find the resolution that will provide, one, the greatest amount of [economic] opportunity, and two, the greatest amount of respect for the historic and present interests and vision of our community,” Sager said.

Part of that balance is where the 5 percent municipal portion of video gaming proceeds will be used. In April, Woodstock decided to put its revenue toward economic development and cultural programs, an ordinance that Sager said other communities have asked him about.

Cary will use some of its proceeds on grants for community events.

Conversations about how to best approach video gaming likely are to continue around the county: Bull Valley recently voted to allow video gaming on a trial basis, and Fox River Grove trustees started a discussion about possible regulation changes. Other municipalities will continue to weigh development proposals that incorporate gambling.

Cary Village Trustee Jim Cosler, who was not on the Village Board when it approved video gaming, said he doesn’t think video gaming is a good influence on the community but now wants businesses to have equal opportunity to use it.

“If I could go back to that time, I would never have approved it for our community, but it is here now,” Cosler said. “I just want to give any business the ability to compete against another business.”

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