By Pam DeFiglio, Patch.com
The temperature read -16℉ Monday evening as people gathered to hear remarks for and against gambling in Niles--remarks which quickly became heated.
Niles' task force on video gaming was holding its first meeting, and Jim Callero, who had been appointed chair by Mayor Andrew Przybylo, opened the meeting by saying the task force's purpose was to provide testimony to the mayor. Przybylo had earlier said he would like the village to explore permitting video gaming as an economic development tool, but wanted to get input first.
Read more: Like Or Oppose Video Gaming In Niles? Speak Up Immediately
When Callero invited eight experts on the topic to speak--four in favor and four against--things got dramatic.
To Kathy Gilroy, Niles would be shooting itself in the foot to allow video gaming, also called video gambling, in town.
The village would spend $3 on social costs (treating addiction, bankruptcy, crime and suicide, for example) for every $1 it recoups in revenue, said Gilroy, speaking on behalf of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.
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"Local residents will have to lose $100,000 in the machines for the city to get $5,000," she added, explaining that the state takes 25 percent of the money gamblers lose, and machine owners and operators take 35 percent.
To Chuck Hamburg, however, the numbers were just as stark in making the pro-gambling case.
Niles is looking at making $500,000 a year in revenue if it permits video gaming, said Hamburg, of Roosevelt University's Manfred Steinfeld School of Hospitality and Tourism.
"I respect the anti-gambling people," he said, "but it’s an economic issue-- do you want a half million dollars a year, or don’t you?"
If Niles fails to act soon, it will lose gambling and bar patrons to other towns, such as Morton Grove, which permits video gambling, he said, adding it's tough to make a living in the restaurant and bar business and video gaming could help boost local businesses toward profitability.
"You’ve got the largest-grossing casino in the country down the street in Des Plaines. You’re doing a huge disservice to your city's economy and to the restaurant and bar owners," he said.
But that didn't fly with David Smith, Executive Director of the Illinois Family Institute.
"Increased social costs of $3 for every $1 in gambling revenue will lead to increased taxes (in Niles)" he said, adding Illinois lawmakers were wrong to think they could fix the state's financial shortfall with gambling.
"Creating thousands of citizens losers is terrible public policy," he commented, adding gambling is linked to bankruptcy, home foreclosure, white collar crime and other ills.
Another expert, Nancy Duel, chair of the Northern Illinois Anti-Gambling Task Force, was not able to be present but had her testimony read by Kathy Gilroy.
"Gamblers who no longer have to drive to a casino will gamble more frequently on video gambling machines in neighborhood restaurants, pizza parlors, bowling alleys, bars, golf courses, (etc.)," she commented, adding new research showed there is almost one new problem gambler for each additional video machine added to a community.
She also expressed concern about three demographics of gamblers--veterans, of whom 10 percent are problem or pathological gamblers, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; young people, who grew up on video games, and women, who are attracted to gambling bistros with names like Betty's and Penny's.
"Money spent on video gambling will take money away from family needs and other businesses in the community," she wrote.
The Niles Chamber of Commerce and Industry took a different approach.
It fully supports allowing video gaming, said Executive Director Katie Schneider, who explained local business owners such as Chasers Bar and Grill have complained they are losing customers to Rivers Casino in Des Plaines or the Morton Grove bars which feature video gaming.
Illinois leaders "have already decided that video gaming expanding is the direction of the state, whether you agree with it or not," she said, citing the Des Plaines casino, numerous businesses which sell lottery tickets and, since 2006, off-track betting in Niles.
State Rep. Lou Lang was on the schedule to speak in favor of video gaming, but did not attend.Members of the public will be allowed to state their opinions for or against video gaming Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. at Niles village hall, in the Civic Center complex at the southeast corner of Oakton Street and Waukegan Road, Niles.