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Towns must address video gambling while they can
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Published: 7/28/2009 6:32 AM | Updated: 7/28/2009 12:38 PM

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The silence has been, as they say, deafening.

Earlier this summer, the legislature passed a huge public works bill that is financed in large measure by a massive expansion of legalized gambling.

It would permit video gambling to be offered in taverns, restaurants that serve alcohol, truck stops and fraternal clubs. The measure was quickly signed by Gov. Pat Quinn and could lead to the sudden installation of as many as 45,000 video gambling machines in Illinois.

That's 45,000.

(Makes you wonder which politicians in some way are going to have their hands connected to the video game machine companies, but that's a subject for later observation and later editorials.)

Most towns in the Chicago suburbs could have these machines. If not, suburbanites could find them in bars and restaurants operating in the unincorporated areas just outside the municipalities.

We've already used this space to express our opinion about them. We think they are a dangerous expansion of legalized gambling in the state. But, further, they represent irresponsible public policy, approved as a desperation revenue option without proper thought and review and without, as Daily Herald Projects Editor Joseph Ryan reported Monday, consideration given to adequate oversight and regulation.

As Ryan reported, the bill provided no funding for the Illinois Gaming Board to add the staffing needed to monitor video gambling or to develop the computer background check and enforcement systems to oversee it.

Given the many other hands already outstretched for state help, it's unlikely lawmakers will be very generous in providing those funds in the near future, if ever.

"If I sound frustrated it is because, to some extent, I am," gaming board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said. "We were never consulted about bringing this in and we were never consulted about what had to be done."

As yet, Quinn and legislative leaders have done little to respond to those concerns. But then, to a large extent, this is the state of Illinois and, well, what can you expect? Business as usual.

The silence that bothers us more is the silence of our suburban village boards and city councils.

The legislation is set up so video gambling becomes legal if the municipal board does nothing. In order for the machines to be blocked in any town, the municipal board must be proactive and vote to ban them.

As much braying as there initially was about the impact this would have on our communities, and despite the opposition expressed by many local law enforcement leaders, the temptation for local boards to do nothing is strong. First, there's the idea of the 5 percent take on the gamblers' losses the municipalities would receive. Then, of course, will be the concern that "if we ban them, our bars and restaurants will lose business to bars and restaurants in towns next door."

The leaders of our suburbs are not responsible for this mess. It, like so many state mandates, has been heaped upon them by the state.

But they're the ones who have to do something about it.

So far, there has been precious little discussion of the issue at area municipal board meetings and almost no hearings to understand what constituents think or to delve into the deeper implications. A DuPage County Board member did speak out last week when he said he would ask the board to ban the machines in unincorporated areas. We need more of that kind of discussion. As Anita Bedell, director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems, said, "Once this is in your community, you can't stop it."

To our mayors and village presidents, to our city councils and village boards, we have four words: End the silence now.