Niles to Weigh Ban on Video Gambling Machines
Tug of war ensues over going along with state law for devices at bars, other spots.
Video gaming machines could be coming next year to bars, restaurants and veterans halls in Niles, and all bets are off as to whether that's a good or bad thing.
The Niles Village Board is scheduled to consider whether to permit video gaming at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The state legislature passed a law, the Illinois Video Gaming Act, in July 2009 that legalizes and regulates video gaming machines. The state would use the proceeds to build roads and other infrastructure projects. However, municipalities and counties can vote to ban video gambling, and many have.
Opinions on whether to implement a ban differ sharply. Opponents of video gaming call it the crack cocaine of the gambling world, creating quick, intense addictions that ruin can individuals and families.
Proponents say every town already has video gaming, and that banning it will drive patrons away from Niles to other communities that permit the devices. The village would also lose revenue it could reap from the machines, supporters say.
"Each municipality will look at this [video gaming] bill through their own lens. Some are banning it, some are not," said Joe Schatteman, research and information services coordinator for the Illinois Municipal League. The way the law is written, it will go into force unless a local government, such as a village board, acts to ban video gaming.
Out of 1,300 municipalities and 102 counties in Illinois, Schatteman estimates 60 have banned video gaming. However, he doesn't anticipate the state will get the video gaming program up and running until July at the earliest.
Drawing customers to Niles bars
At a June 30 Niles Village Board hearing on video gaming, Village President Robert Callero expressed support for the machines, saying they could bring much-needed revenue--$150,000 to $300,000 annually-- to the town's coffers. He feared that without it, Niles businesses would lose customers to nearby communities that have video gambling.
Harry Achino, owner of A's Bar in Niles, said at the June meeting that bar owners have taken a hit from the recession and the smoking ban, and video gaming would help them recover as well as provide revenue for government.
Likewise, Pete Dalamangas, owner of Chaser's, said Niles bar owners not only have to stay competitive with Chicago and neighboring towns, but also the casino under construction in Des Plaines.
However, several of the trustees asked questions and raised concerns about video gaming, including its effect on gambling addicts, children and families.
Gambling not a reliable revenue, think tank says
The pros and cons are being debated in other places too.
"Video gaming is one of the most addictive forms of gambling. I view it as predatory. It's bad policy, a means of generating cheap revenue on the backs of people who can least afford to pay it," said Tony Michelassi, a DuPage County Board member who voted to ban video gaming in August 2009.
His 15-member board voted unanimously to opt out of the Illinois Video Gaming Act, but the ban only affects unincorporated areas of the county.
Laurence Msall, president of The Civic Federation, a think tank on government services in Illinois, is of the same mind.
"We're opposed to video gaming as a funding source because it isn't tied to a reasonable assessment of revenue raising," he said. "Gambling has been an unreliable source of funding for government."
Besides the question of its reliability as a revenue source, some people note the toll video gambling takes on those who make it a habit.
"It's well known video gambling terminals are designed to cause the player to lose as much money as possible as fast as possible. The machine displays 'near wins' more often than is truly the case to induce players to think they're almost winning," said Earl Grinols, a professor of economics at Baylor University and author of the book Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits.
Grinols cited several cases of addiction to video gambling, including an Indiana man who lost $34,000 in one night, another Indiana man who sold his auto repair shop for $500,000 and squandered it all on video gambling, and an East St. Louis video gambler who committed suicide after she going deep into debt.
'Crack cocaine of gambling'
While most people play video gaming terminals uneventfully, Grinols acknowledged, some get into deep trouble.
"Video gambling has been called the crack cocaine of gambling. It takes less time to bring a person to the point of addiction, and the degree of addiction is greater," he said.
When asked that if Niles bans video gambling, people simply will travel to other towns and Niles will lose money, Grinols said, "There's some truth to the idea that people will go to neighboring towns. But the fact people need to drive further may be a deterrent."
He also laid some blame on Illinois legislators for putting municipalities in the position of being pressured to allow video gambling because neighboring towns were doing so.
"The Illinois legislature didn't do the right thing by allowing municipalities to choose," he said.
It's called a job creator
Those views were disputed, however, by Rob Nash, a spokesman for both the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association and Back to Work Illinois, a coalition that supports the capital bill, a state initiative to create capital projects, such as building schools, that in turn create jobs.
"Video gambling was passed by the General Assembly as one of the primary means to fund the capital bill," Nash said. "We think it will be successful to create jobs so everyone benefits, whether it's a school, construction or transportation project."
The video gaming law actually will provide for more regulation and better law enforcement than what's happening now, Nash said, explaining that no one is monitoring the tens of thousands of video gaming machines already operating illegally, or in an unregulated fashion, in bars across the state.
Under the video gaming act, each machine will be licensed and every transaction will be recorded, he said.
Machines will be regulated
"People concerned about the law enforcement angle [of gambling] should favor this," Nash said, adding that under the 2009 legislation, operating a video gambling terminal not licensed by the state, in a location not licensed by the state, is a Class 4 felony.
"This law means cleaning up and regulating something that's already out there, with the added bonus of collecting revenue for Illinois' infrastructure," Nash said.
When told of Grinols' comments about video device's potential to cause gambling addiction, Nash responded: "The State of Illinois has decided this is something that's going to be legal. I can't say whether it's good or bad.
"Illinois has had gambling for almost 30 years with the lottery, riverboat casinos for nearly 20 years and there's gaming in neighboring states. There's been discussion about off-track betting in Niles, and I don't think the predicted law enforcement problems ever materialized."
Although proponents like Nash and opponents like Michelassi and Grinols continue to disagree, no strong sentiment for or against video gambling has emerged in any organized citizens' groups or religious coalitions in Niles.
"No, I haven't heard of any groups organizing on this topic," said Rev. Steve Howery, pastor of Niles Community Church, 7401 W. Oakton St. "Once they let Lucky Magee's [off-track betting] in, they may have set the precedent."