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Government Local

DeKalb OK's video gambling on first reading

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance that would legalize video gambling at certain establishments within city limits.

But this was only the ordinance’s first reading. At their Aug. 27 meeting, the council will vote a second time on the ordinance. Should it pass then, it will become law.

Seventh Ward Alderwoman Monica O’Leary was the only one on the council to vote against the ordinance. Third Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash indicated that she opposed the measure, but she had to leave the meeting before the vote.

The state legalized video gambling in 2009 to allow only bars, truck stops, and fraternal & veteran organizations with liquor licenses to have the terminals. But the council’s ordinance initially restricted the terminals to businesses with Class A and Class C liquor licenses.

However, at the urging of Keith Tatevich, the owner of Mardi Gras Lanes, 1730 Sycamore Road, the council amended the ordinance to include Class J license holders (the only holder being Mardi Gras Lanes).

The council also included a five-year sunset provision, meaning that the ordinance would automatically expire in 2017 unless the city council votes to renew it.

City officials initially estimated that these restrictions would limit the number of businesses that can have terminals to 23.

If each business installed the maximum of five terminals – which includes a $25 fee per terminal – the city plans to rake in $261,625 a year in total tax revenue.

These figures, however, do not count revenue from the addition of Mardi Gras Lanes. Assuming the bowling alley installs all five terminals, the expected annual revenue from the city’s perspective would increase to $273,000.

These potential revenues were not enough to persuade Lash to support the ordinance. She said she would not vote for the terminals as they would divert revenues from already-struggling city businesses.

“The money going into the machines could mean the difference of them going under,” Lash said. “It’s something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

But Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher reiterated his support for bringing gambling terminals to the city.

“I think with online gambling, I think with bingo, I think with the state of Illinois looking at gambling with the lottery,” Gallagher said. “... It’s a contentious issue, and I think it’s an easy issue for the city of DeKalb to look at.”

Residents and business owners also spoke out on the controversial issue Monday. Supporters of legalizing the terminals point out the potential revenues that business owners and the city can earn.

Nick Lennox, director of business development at Accel Entertainment, a gambling terminal operator, ran off a list of how much revenue the ordinance could provide the city and the state. Lennox said the state could collect more than $1 billion in revenue, and that the terminals will help fund construction projects at Northern Illinois University.

Earl Sullivan, owner of Sullivan’s Tap, 722 E. Lincoln Highway, said he supported legalization, but he said the revenue issue is unknown.

“We honestly don’t know. Until it happens, we honestly don’t know,” Sullivan said. But he added that the city can always opt out of it in the future.

The ordinance’s critics argue that gambling would inflict a heavy social cost – and by extension, a heavy economic cost – on the community. Carolyn Watson, 74, of Sycamore, said allowing gambling in the city would “destroy families.”

“It’s destructive to the community. It’s destructive to the family,” Watson said, who described gambling as a regressive tax. “What can happen is that the judgment – with the alcohol and addictiveness of gambling – the person who’s gambling can clean out the family bank account.”

Another gambling opponent, John Anderson, also took issue with the ordinance.

“Is their anything government won’t do to enhance its revenue stream?” Anderson said, adding that the revenue will come from the city’s poorest residents.

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