Village discusses gaming license

By on August 10, 2012

by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—Slot machines and video poker are unlikely to come to Sugar Grove anytime soon, despite an application by the American Legion for a state-issued gaming license last Friday.

Although the budget-strapped Illinois legislature approved the Illinois Video Gaming Act in 2009 as a way to increase tax revenue, licensing has been slow to begin. The act allows businesses with liquor licenses to apply to have video gaming on the premises, so long as they have a maximum of five machines and place them in an area that’s only accessible to those 21 and older.

The law allows individual municipalities to opt out, if they choose, and several area villages have already done so or are considering it. St. Charles, Batavia and Elburn have already voted to ban the gaming, and Geneva will debate the issue next week.

The American Legion’s application brought up the issue in Sugar Grove, where village officials discussed the possibility at Tuesday’s Village Board meeting. Board members seem set to opt out at the Tuesday, Aug. 21, meeting, which is the soonest they would be able to vote on the issue.

“It’s not something you approve,” said Peter Wilson, the village’s attorney. “It’s something you disapprove. It’s already there; it’s lawful, unless you take action to opt out.”

Village President Sean Michels encouraged the board to evaluate the pros and cons of gaming, noting that it had been approved at the state level and there were three establishments in town that could potentially qualify, due to their liquor licenses. He also pointed out that there were few revenue benefits for Sugar Grove.

“With this level of gaming, we don’t anticipate any real issues as far as requiring any police or staff that would (financially) impact the village,” Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger told the board. “On the flip side of it, we don’t think we’ll see significant dollar amounts coming in either, with this number of machines.”

The state’s taxation formula means that Sugar Grove would likely get less than $20 in additional tax revenue a year, Village Clerk Cindy Galbreath said.

“For every dollar spent in one of the machines, 80 cents has to pay back out (in winnings),” Galbreath said. “Of the 20 cents left over, 30 percent of that goes to taxes, but only five percent of that goes to the municipality. The rest is profit (for the companies). So there’s not much in it for Sugar Grove.”

Sugar Grove resident Amy Glenn said that she didn’t see much harm in allowing video gaming.

“If it would help the community in any way, with tax dollars or with drawing people here, I don’t see anything wrong with it so long as it’s contained,” Glenn said. “I know gambling is an addiction for some people, but for others it’s just a game.”

Her daughter, Cassondra Zimbelman, agreed but cautioned that if the village was going to allow gaming, it should be monitored.

“My main concern would be, if you go to a bar, they cut you off (if you’ve had too much),” Zimbelman said. “They’d have to cut you off with things like gambling as well. You can’t have somebody spending their whole mortgage payment. But I don’t see this taking the village down because gambling’s already down the street (in Aurora).”

Wilson warned the board that it might be difficult for the village to apply additional regulations to gaming because the state is already regulating it.

“Theoretically, you might be able to put some kind of restrictions on it, some kind of rotation, but I don’t think you can regulate it much,” he said. “You could try it, but I don’t know if it would withstand a challenge in court.”

The ability to control the gaming was a prime concern for trustee Kevin Geary.

“My question is, is this a Pandora’s Box that, once it’s opened, it can’t be shut?” Geary asked the board. “I’m not opposed to gambling, but my question is, what’s the potential downside? If we allow it, is it just going to proliferate itself?”

Trustee Rick Montalto felt strongly about the issue, saying that allowing any kind of gambling isn’t the right thing for the Sugar Grove community.

“I’d like to be the first one to say let’s opt out,” Montalto said. “We are here to determine what we want for this community. Video gambling? Do we want to become Rosemont? The towns around us that are not doing it will just drive people to come to us. And businesses will find a way to get around (any restrictions) and it will be scattering all over.”

Trustee David Paluch agreed that the village should opt out.

“Some of these games are very explicit,” he said. “I’ve seen some in bars that are very graphic in nature. I don’t think it’s the right thing for our village. If people want to go gamble, they can go to the riverboats in Aurora. It’s only 15 minutes away.”

Board members placed the vote to opt out of video gaming on the agenda for the Aug. 21 board meeting and said they expected that members of the American Legion might come to comment on it.