Lake County considers ban on new video gambling terminals

By Mick Zawislak, Daily Herald, June 7, 2019

Pushing back against gambling expansion, Lake County officials are considering banning new video gambling licenses in unincorporated areas but say they need time to research potential wrinkles before taking official action.

Lake County can't regulate the number of video gambling machines in unincorporated areas, but an establishment that wants them must have a liquor license. A county-issued liquor license allows the holder to apply to the state for video gambling machines, but that ability would be removed by the change being considered.

County board Chairwoman Sandy Hart steadfastly opposes gambling expansion and said a potential ban on new machines has been discussed with the state's attorney's office since January.

"People say it's a drop in the bucket, but it's our bucket," she said Friday. "Whatever we can do."

The discussion comes on the heels of the gambling expansion bill, which permits a casino in Waukegan.

Existing locations that have an Illinois Gaming Board license could keep their machines and add terminals as outlined in a gambling expansion bill awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker's signature. Eligible businesses that apply for a state license before the county ordinance is enacted also would be exempt.

There are 1,800 video gambling machines at about 380 venues in the unincorporated area. Under the change being considered, new machines would not be allowed, though it's unclear what happens if an establishment that has them closes or changes hands. Any change in county rules would have no effect on municipalities, which have their own rules.

Video gambling in unincorporated Lake County was introduced in August 2013, when the board reversed a 2009 ban and passed an ordinance allowing it by an 11-9 vote.

Hart said she wants to follow the lead of Will County, which in April 2015 voted to end video gambling expansion in unincorporated areas, citing too many loopholes in existing state law that has allowed a proliferation of gambling.

A Lake County ban was discussed at length Thursday by the county board's financial and administrative committee. It was to have been forwarded to the full county board Tuesday for a vote, but committee members wanted more time to consider and tabled it to June 27.

"That gives people time to do the research. We can chew on this a little," said committee member Steve Carlson, a gambling opponent.

Some said they felt pressured to make a decision.

"I feel like I have been rushed," said county board member Diane Hewitt. "When I'm in that position, I will automatically vote 'No.'" Others questioned potential outcomes.

County board member Ann Maine of Lincolnshire said she opposes gambling but a ban would be a symbolic and meaningless gesture. She was concerned it could diminish the value of existing businesses with machines for owners who may want to retire or sell and sap their nest eggs.

"How can we get more information about some of these ifs and whereas and different scenarios?" she said. "That's why I would really like to have more time."