SYCAMORE – Pastor Bill Landis started the Sycamore City Council meeting with a prayer as all council meetings begin.
But instead of leaving after the prayer, the Sycamore United Methodist Church pastor walked back up to microphone later in the meeting. Landis wanted the council to know he has seen gambling destroy lives and did not want to see it happen again in Sycamore.
Landis was one of six people to speak against video gaming at the City Council's public hearing Monday, which also drew three people who said video gaming would either be beneficial or not a problem.
To illustrate his opposition, Landis told a story of two successful businessmen in his former church that lost everything once gambling was accessible in the area and then told a story about the recent funeral of Sycamore resident Chuck Alexander.
Landis said Alexander founded the Gamblers Anonymous Group of Sycamore, a group Landis said he never knew existed despite living in the city for more than 10 years. Knowing there are people in the city who struggle with gambling, Landis said it would be unwise to make it more accessible.
"If it's here, it's too easy," Landis said.
His concerns were echoed by residents Joseph Bassett, Stephen Zimny, Steve Kuhn, Rosemarie Slavenas and Carolyn Watson. All said gambling was a no-win financial situation for residents and some said it would deteriorate the quality of life and character in Sycamore.
Watson said each establishment that added a video gaming terminal would become a minicasino that could cause problems such as addiction, bankruptcy, broken families and even suicide.
"We have wonderful people in this wonderful town," she said. "We don't need more crime."
But video gambling is not without its merits, others argued.
Jack Knudson, with the Sycamore Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said his organization was interested in the machines because it would create additional revenue to help returning soldiers and area veterans.
Al Mannis, with the Moose Lodge, agreed with Knudson and said the machines would help his organization maintain the charity work it does for children and donations it makes to places such as Hope Haven.
"It's very difficult for us to get monies together," Knudson said, noting a declining membership. "This would help."
The council did not vote on the measure Monday, but will likely make a decision at its next meeting Oct. 1.
Alderman Steve Braser called it a "tough situation" and said he was undecided on the topic, but stressed he would legislate on a morality basis. Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy noted he received 18 postcards from residents opposed to gambling and heard opposition from three other pastors.
City Manager Brian Gregory has said the city could realize $99,000 a year in revenue if an expected 32 terminals were requested. But he stressed again that number is an estimate, as there are too many unknown factors.
Gregory said the estimated revenue is a nonfactor in making a decision because of the uncertainty of how much the city would actually receive and the likelihood some of the money that could go toward gaming would go toward drinks, food and other products.