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Cook County panel recommends tweaking its ban on video gambling
Full board will vote on whether to add language about Gov. Pat Quinn's to use the machines to finance state work

Friday, October 02, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Trumpeting their opposition to using video gambling taxes to fund state government, Cook County Board commissioners on Thursday recommended a tweak to the county's ban on video betting in unincorporated areas.

Though the devices already are banned under county ordinances, the measure recommended by the Finance Committee specifically cites Gov. Pat Quinn's new statewide construction plan that would partly be funded with taxes from legalized video poker machines.

DuPage County and Rosemont are among more than 20 jurisdictions that have banned video gambling, said Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, who spearheaded the Cook measure. That momentum could prod the General Assembly to rethink the idea in its fall session, she added.

"We have time to bring all these other cities and communities along to ban it and basically make Springfield look at this differently and find a better way," she said.

Some Republican commissioners sought to defer on the Gainer effort until leaders of township government, which also exercises authority in unincorporated suburban areas, could weigh in.

"It's already illegal," said Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman, R-Orland Park.

But Gorman and her allies lost their delay effort, and the committee approved the measure 11-1. The full 17-member board will vote on it Tuesday.

The committee's vote came after about 20 speakers addressed the issue.

Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, noted that video gambling is "something that's been called the crack cocaine of gaming." Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich used that phrase when the idea surfaced in Springfield several years ago.

Police also spoke against the machines, which have been linked to the Chicago Outfit. Industry officials spoke against banning them.

Officials estimate the state plan could legalize 45,000 machines, bringing in about $300 million a year. Under the measure, bars, restaurants, truck stops and social clubs could have up to five video gambling machines.

Rules are still being set up by the state. The county measure does not affect incorporated areas in Chicago or the suburbs. In Chicago, aldermen would have to lift a ban for the machines to be allowed.

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