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Cook County emphasizes ban on video poker

Friday, October 02, 2009
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

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 township self-determination.

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 gambling.

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 then.

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 said.

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 way."

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.

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