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DuPage first county to ban video gambling
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/11/2009 11:11 AM | Updated: 8/11/2009 4:25 PM

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The DuPage County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to become the first county in Illinois to ban video gambling machines.

Other Chicago-area counties may soon follow suit. The Will County Board is holding a "strategy meeting" Thursday morning to discuss legislation similar to DuPage's. Cook County Board member Bridget Gainer, who was at the DuPage meeting, said a coalition of female board members will present a similar proposal in September. And Kane County officials announced Tuesday they will form a task force to study the impacts of the machines both socially and financially. Only 25 establishments in Kane would be affected.

Many DuPage officials cited concerns over possible social problems as a reason to oppose the devices.

"I think it's clear DuPage County's quality of life is not for sale," Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said. "What we're saying is (everyone) should ban video poker."

The ban only affects 35 restaurants, bars, social clubs and golf courses in unincorporated portions of DuPage - none of which sent representatives to Tuesday's board meeting. The county stands to lose an estimated $350,000 a year with the state-mandated revenue split from the machines, county finance officials said.

Rosemont is the only other taxing body to have banned the devices.

Video gambling is allowed under a massive capital improvement package approved in July by Gov. Pat Quinn. The machines are expected to bring in $367 million annually to help pay for infrastructure projects.

Quinn defended the gambling-financed capital package during a bill-signing ceremony Tuesday when he was told of the DuPage vote.

"I don't think we should jump the gun here," said Quinn, noting there are other funding sources for the construction plan, most notably higher alcohol taxes and vehicle fees. "If some communities choose not to have (video gambling), it's OK by me."

Representatives from the Illinois Coin Operators Association were the lone voices of dissent at the meeting. They urged board members to postpone the vote until the Illinois Gaming Board finalized regulations for the machines.

"Delay the vote so you can understand how regulatory oversight and controls will impact this form of entertainment," said Brian Pierce, a representative of Bally Technologies, who lives in Naperville.

DuPage board member Dirk Enger also suggested the board postpone the vote to give residents a chance to weigh-in on the topic. It has only been a few weeks since the ban was first proposed by board member Brien Sheahan.

Enger was upset the board's finance committee was the only group to discuss the proposal, and that was just hours before Tuesday's vote.

"I think it's a disgrace state legislators added this to the capital bill," Enger said. "But my biggest concern is that we are leaders and to ... hold hearings to gather public input would give this ban more teeth in Springfield."

Other board members said acting now sends a stronger message that legislators need to find another revenue source.

"The state sent us a bad piece of legislation," board member Jim Zay said. "By DuPage voting against this it will hopefully set the ball rolling for them to find another revenue source. By prolonging it, that's not going to help."

Residents, anti-gambling groups and other agencies spoke in favor of the ban Tuesday. Most echoed concerns that the machines would lead to a downfall of society.

"This idea we can become wealthy by pushing a button is something I deplore," Naperville resident Barbara Brassfield said.

John Pastuovic, a spokesman for the Chicago Crime Commission, said studies have shown video gambling is one of the most addictive forms.

"We are troubled that the state's self-exclusion program, which prohibits problem gamblers from entering casinos, would be left hobbled if video gambling proliferates in Illinois," he said. "We have significant concerns that entire families will be left penniless because mom and dad will be feeding their entire paycheck into video gambling machines."

Senior State Government Editor John Patterson contributed to this report.