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Our View: Gambling at golf courses worthy of debate

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 7:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:33 p.m. CDT

The Great Recession hit golf course operators hard, and the publicly owned courses in DeKalb and Sycamore were no exception.

The DeKalb Park District owns the River Heights and Buena Vista golf courses, and Sycamore’s Park District owns Sycamore Golf Club.

All three have had budget troubles in recent years. As such, it makes sense for the park boards operating these courses to seriously consider any means of generating new revenue, even if that new revenue comes in the form of video gambling machines.

As we have noted before, gambling is a vice with real social costs. It can be addictive and the machines are designed to take money out of players’ pockets. We opposed the legalization of video gambling. It passed anyway.

Park districts are public institutions we trust to promote healthy recreation for residents. Installing a video gambling terminal would be a tacit endorsement of activity that can be harmful. Then again, the park districts also run bars in the golf course clubhouses, and drinking can be a harmful activity as well.

Whether the local park district endorses it or not, this type of gambling is legal in the community. There are more than 150 video gambling terminals at locations around DeKalb County, including in DeKalb and Sycamore, and some business owners have reported making thousands a month in gaming proceeds.

State law allows the machines to be located only in establishments with a license to serve alcohol on the premises – all three local courses fit that bill – and other park districts around the state already operate terminals or plan to install them. In Elk Grove Village, for example, the park district’s gaming terminals generated profits of about $3,000 in February, of which a little more than $1,000 would have gone to the park district. State gaming officials said several other park districts have applied for gaming licenses.

There are factors to consider, however. The machines probably would not see much use during the winter months when golf courses are closed. They probably would need to be installed so that they were not in other patrons’ faces the second they walk in, and might need to be shut down when the courses host IHSA golf meets.

The boost the gambling take could provide to the courses’ bottom lines would have to be weighed against reluctance to accept adding gambling machines to public buildings.

It is not cheap to operate a golf course, and anything that can make it easier to maintain the courses with a balanced budget should not be rejected out of hand.

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