Woodstock bets on video gambling
The Woodstock City Council voted unanimously to lift a ban on video gambling machines at bars and restaurants after only about 45 minutes of discussion at its Oct. 2 meeting.
At the council’s Sept. 18 meeting, council members came to a consensus to have the question appear on an upcoming agenda after a petition signed by 21 restaurant and bar owners was delivered to the council. The city had banned the video gambling devices despite the state approving the machines. Mayor Brian Sager said the city had waited to make a decision about the devices until the Illinois State Gaming Board had established regulations.
Despite most council members indicating they were initially uncomfortable with the idea of video gambling machines in the city, they said they have been impressed by the state regulations put in place in regard to the machines.
Council member Mike Turner said that while he doesn’t think the machines are the silver bullet or evil side being portrayed, he is concerned that not allowing them will put businesses in Woodstock at a competitive disadvantage.
“The possibility of money leaving [Woodstock], that’s a significant risk,” he said. Turner said it would be a harder sell for him to pass the measure if video gambling was unique to Woodstock. “I’m going to support this, not reluctantly, but without passion.”
Council member Maureen Larson said her decision to reverse prohibition on the devices is based purely on keeping Woodstock businesses competitive.
“Nothing about this decision to me has anything to do with the tax dollars coming into the city,” she said.
Council member Dick Ahrens said he was concerned the devices would redirect money from day care, grocery bills or other family budgets items, but ultimately, he said those possibilities are already available to people.
“You have so many opportunities to do this that doesn’t come before us or that we don’t have control over,” he said.
Liquor licenses are regulated by the city and gaming licenses are regulated by the state. A violation on either side could jeopardize the other license.
Bets will range from 1 cent to $2 per play. The state requires at least an 80 percent payback rate. Proponents of the video gambling law say the low volatility of the machines means more serious gamblers will go elsewhere.
“[The number of problem gamblers] are statistically low with regards to these machines,” said Stephanie Drougas, representing Triple 7, a video gambling terminal operator.
Some council members and residents at the meeting were concerned about the addictive nature of the machines.
“Video gambling, and gambling in general, is more of a death by a thousand needles,” said The Rev. Kurt Gamlin, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Woodstock.
Gamlin argued that video gambling doesn’t create money but funnels it through a narrow channel.
“The question that you’re taxed with … is where do you want that money to go?” he said.
Gamlin said it isn’t fair to compare video gambling to the lottery because individual municipalities never had the opportunity to prohibit the lottery.
“[Video gambling] has been passed by the state,” he said. “You folks now get to decide the tone for this community as we move into the future.”
Gamlin was the only Woodstock resident who spoke against video gambling at the meeting. Kathy Gilroy, Villa Park, also spoke against it.
City manager Tim Clifton said the city’s police department will not need additional staff to oversee compliance.
“We will be doing checks just like how we do the bar checks,” he said.
The council added a requirement to the established state regulations that the city must approve the location of the machines. The city also has the power to reconsider the prohibition if the state changes its regulations.
Visit www.igb.illinois.gov/videogaming for additional information about video gambling in Illinois.