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County board committee bans video gambling in unincorporated Cook

Friday, October 02, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Amy Lee

The Cook County Board's finance committee on Thursday banned video gambling machines from popping up in unincorporated areas of the county.

The ban, if approved by the full board, would affect 53 Southland businesses that hold a liquor license. The full board will consider the ban at its Tuesday meeting.

"The long-term cost to society will far outweigh any short-term gains in funding," John Pastuovic, of the Chicago Crime Commission, told the committee. "Illinois will become the wild west of gambling."

The Legislature in July approved a law allowing video gaming in bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations that serve alcohol, and estimates the state can reap anywhere from $345 million to $640 million annually in profits and taxes. A majority of that cash would be pumped into the state's $31 billion capital plan to fix the state's roads, bridges and schools.

Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-17th), of Orland Park, voted to put off voting on the ban before she voted to support the ban. The resolution was approved with 10 votes to ban video gambling, one against the ban and one present. Five commissioners were absent.

"This will put a dent into our bill for capital improvements less than 24 hours before the Olympic committee votes on our bid," said Gorman said. "I agree with everything that's been said on both sides. I need to hear more from Elk Grove to Orland."

The law calls for 25 percent of the total cash collected in each machine to go to the state, and 5 percent to communities that allow video gaming; the remaining 70 percent would be split evenly between the machine distributor and the owner of a gaming establishment.

County ordinances already bar the machines, but the committee opted to add language to the prohibition to avoid any potential loopholes or conflicts with the state's new video gaming law.

The state law paves will allow up to 65,000 video gambling machines to legally operate and pay winnings to players. Another 65,000 video gambling machines operate in Illinois under a law that allows playing for entertainment purposes only; the new law calls for the removal of "entertainment only" machines.

Critics of those machines have long argued the machines are controlled by the Mob and that many pay out, as long as the patron is on good terms with the barkeep.

"If you think organized crime has been eliminated in Chicago, Illinois or the nation, you could not be further from the truth," said James Wagner, a nationally known expert who spent 30 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation organized crime unit in Chicago.

"The machines are so lucrative, the Outfit is just salivating over this. They will fight hard to expand this cash business."

But Mike Pappas, an Orland Park resident and board member for the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, scoffed at the idea that video gaming machines will worsen crime in Illinois or bankrupt addicted players. He urged the board to allow the machines in unincorporated Cook County.

"Gambling is already mainstream in Illinois, with Internet gambling, the Lottery, off-track betting and casinos," he said. "People can make their own responsible decisions."

HOW THEY VOTED

The Cook County Board's finance committee voted on Thursday to ban video gambling in unincorporated areas of Cook County. A yes vote affirmed the ban. Here's how commissioners from the Southland voted:

• Jerry Butler (D-3rd), of Chicago: Yes

• John P. Daley (D-11th), of Chicago: Yes

• Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-17th), of Orland Park: Yes

• Joan Patricia Murphy (D-6th), of Crestwood: Absent

• Deborah Sims (D-5th), of Chicago: Absent



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