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Many suburban mayors not buying into video gambling
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Video gambling machines by Incredible Technologies in Arlington Heights, makers of Golden Tee Golf. The company is poised to expand its market if video gambling is allowed at bars and VFW halls in Illinois.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Gary Colabuono, director of marketing for Incredible Technologies in Arlington Heights, believes his company has proved it knows how to attract adults to video games.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Electronics technician Brad Litz of Hoffman Estates works on a hard drive at Incredible Technologies in Arlington Heights, makers of Golden Tee Golf. The company has developed video gambling games.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

A video slot machine by Incredible Technologies in Arlington Heights. The company is poised to expand its market if video gambling is allowed at bars in Illinois.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Incredible Technologies in Arlington Heights, makers of Golden Tee Golf, has developed games that will likely fall under the new gambling expansion legislation heading to Gov. Pat Quinn.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/1/2009 12:17 AM

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Many suburban mayors worried about increased crime, poverty and addiction appear poised to ban slot-like machines in their towns if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a law allowing up to five of the video gambling devices in every liquor-serving business.

"I would fight it," declares Lincolnshire Mayor Brett Blomberg. "I don't want it in our community."

In Arlington Heights, home of Arlington Park racetrack, Mayor Arlene Mulder says flatly, "I just feel this is a bad idea."

In Glen Ellyn, "we probably would not want to have that in town," says Village President Mark Pfefferman.

And video gambling is "not a good fit for Lisle," says Mayor Joseph Boda.

In all, about 13 mayors in the North, West and Northwest suburbs told the Daily Herald they are reluctant to allow video poker or slot machines in their bars, truck stops, fraternal clubs and restaurants. More than two dozen more say they have not decided, are leaning in favor, or could not yet comment. The new video gaming law would give city councils the option to ban them in town.

The measure, approved by the Illinois House and Senate but not yet signed into law by Quinn, is projected to put more than 45,000 such devices in establishments across the state.

Taxes on the gamblers' losses are projected to raise $400 million or more for a $29 billion public works spending plan, as Illinois would become one of only a handful of states to legalize such widespread gambling.

The plan has drawn sharp criticism from anti-gambling groups and even some law enforcement officials, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Several Cook County commissioners say they may move to push legislation banning the machines in unincorporated parts of the county.

"This encourages gambling addiction. It encourages corruption in a state that is trying to weed out corruption," said Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman of Orland Park, whose district stretches into the West and Northwest suburbs. "A lot of thought wasn't put into this."

But lawmakers who supported the plan at the Capitol argue it is the best way to raise cash for road and transit projects that would create tens of thousands of jobs. Quinn opposed an earlier proposal to raise the gas tax, but he also repeatedly promised voters that he would oppose any massive expansion of gambling.

To be sure, several suburban mayors said they don't see an initial problem with gambling machines at bars and restaurants. Some bars already have video poker machines and slots and illegally pay winnings.

"Video poker is legal already," said Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan, whose town landed the last state casino license last year. "It's just that the payouts are not legalized."

Lake in the Hills Village President Ed Plaza says he doesn't see it as "any different than a lottery ticket."

"It's the same principle isn't it?"

While many mayors expressed reservations about the machines in a Daily Herald survey last week, it is also clear they will face intense pressure to allow the gambling devices within their borders.

In Springfield, lobbyists for bar owners and video game distributors and manufacturers pushed the legalization through the legislature. Those same interests are expected to continue the push locally.

Indeed, with the machines legalized statewide, many mayors might find it futile to ban them, potentially putting their bars and restaurants at a disadvantage to businesses just down the street in another suburb.

"We certainly can't put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage," said Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod. "And I would be concerned that would happen if we were to ban them and everyone else didn't."

In Gurnee, Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she is worried about the family image of her town being tarnished, but she also wants to help draw visitors to the suburb's famous mall and amusement park.

"I can certainly see some advantages for our true tourist destinations," she said. "But we will be conservative in the long run."

At the same time, suburban governments stand to reap extra tax revenue from the machines.

The legislation stipulates that about 5 percent of the revenue from a machine goes to the local government while 25 percent goes to the state. Local governments can also charge annual fees per machine.

In all, that could mean tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in large suburbs, added to the bottom line at a time voters are bristling at tax hikes.

"I'm not an advocate of gambling per se," said Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig. "But I have an obligation to look at every opportunity for revenue today that we can get our hands on."

Most mayors contacted by the Daily Herald declined to take a solid stand even if they expressed a personal preference one way or the other.

"I would go to our legislators and our chamber of commerce and business community before making a decision with our council," said Naperville Mayor George Pradel. "I wouldn't be so bold as to just say we're going to ban them here."

Some who voiced opposition, meanwhile, cited concerns about having to pay for additional police patrols and inspections at gambling sites.

"Just one establishment with five machines automatically calls for more bar checks and compliance enforcement so it's much easier to not have to worry about those things," said Bloomingdale Mayor Bob Iden.

Others apprehensive about allowing gambling in their borders see the video gambling machines as an enterprise of the criminal underworld that will devalue their family-oriented towns.

"It doesn't seem to me to go with the character of Glen Ellyn," Pfefferman said.

If Quinn signs the legislation, which also raises taxes on liquor, hikes fees on vehicle registrations and privatizes the lottery, it would go into effect this summer. However, it is expected to take the Illinois Gaming Board the better part of a year or longer to lay the regulatory groundwork before machines are approved for use.