The Cook County Board's finance committee on Wednesday re-emphasized its ban on video gambling in unincorporated areas.
In a sometimes contentious meeting, the panel deferred
on a rival proposal by Republican Commissioner Gregg Goslin, of
Glenview, after he said he wanted to add an amendment endorsing
But commissioners then passed a straightforward ban
sponsored by Chicago Democratic Commissioner Bridget Gainer. That too
had to survive an attempt to table it, with Chicago Democratic
Commissioner Forrest Claypool saying, "A vote to defer is simply a vote
to kill." Yet it narrowly avoided deferral by a 7-5 vote, and once the
actual vote was under way few commissioners had the resolve to fight
it, as it passed 11-1.
Although the new ordinance is in many ways redundant as
Cook County, like the city of Chicago, already bans video gambling,
commissioners thought it necessary in light of the budget passed by the
General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year, which
proposes to fund a huge public-works plan by allowing statewide video
Local communities can vote to prevent video gambling
machines in town, as DuPage and Lake counties and several suburbs have
already done. The Cook ordinance now goes before the full county board
Tuesday. Gainer said she did not expect any newfound opposition to it
Yet there was plenty of back-and-forth opposition at a public hearing before Wednesday's vote.
Michael Anton, of the Cook County Sheriff's Police,
said Sheriff Tom Dart is opposed to video gambling, and the machines
are prone to running fixed games. "There is no way you are going to be
able to regulate these," he said.
Retired FBI agent James Wagner, who specialized in
fighting the mob, called video gambling "an open invitation to
organized crime to become a partner in gaming business." He said rumors
of the outfit's demise are greatly exaggerated. "They are with us, they
will always be with us and they do salivate over cash businesses," he
Chris Hesch, of A.H. Entertainers in Rolling Meadows,
dismissed allegations of mob involvement. "It's one of the fights I
always have to fight," he said. He called video gambling a "volunteer
tax," and both he and Paul Duda, of the Wells-Gardner Electronics Corp.
in McCook, said it would create jobs in their firms and elsewhere.
"We see an opportunity to grow our corporation in stature," Duda said.
Yet Riverside Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica
called it a "cockamamie scheme" and said that, given the county's
already established reputation for corruption, "Bringing video gambling
to Cook County would be like bringing a bottle of Scotch to the Betty
Ford Alcohol Treatment Center."
Peraica called gambling an "inappropriate" way to fund
government, and many commissioners said the ban was a way, in Gainer's
words, to "make Springfield look at it differently and find a better
Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association called
video poker "the crack cocaine of gaming" and "terrible government
policy" and drew attention to the way it was rushed through the General
Assembly in the midst of a budget crisis. "It was done in the fog, in
the clouds rather than in the transparency of sunlight," he said.
The finance committee also passed Gainer's new
"Sunshine" initiative calling on county lobbyists to post their
activity online and banning former county employees from working as
county lobbyists for a year after leaving their posts. It passed by
acclamation and, like the ban on video gambling, would pass into law
if, as expected, the committee's minutes are approved by the full board
next week. County Clerk David Orr said the Internet system would be up
and running by next summer, if it is passed.