Cook County commissioners voted Wednesday to allow video gambling in unincorporated areas of the cash-strapped county, a measure supporters praised for the potential new revenue it’s expected to generate and opponents decried for the potential problems they worry it will bring.
The new gambling machines are estimated to bring in at least $260,000 for the remainder of this year, and increase up to $781,000 over the next four years, according to a memo from the county bureau of finance’s chief financial officer.
“This is an opportunity for us to bring in revenue from people who want to pay the revenue, not by forcing something on somebody,” Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican, said during a meeting Tuesday where officials discussed the plan.
When video gambling machines went live in Illinois during fall 2012, Cook County prohibited them from unincorporated areas. Under state law, each establishment authorized to operate video gambling is allowed up to five machines.
Schneider, who proposed the expansion plan in unincorporated Cook County said the measure would allow businesses with a liquor license to apply for video gambling. There are approximately 60 businesses with liquor licenses in unincorporated Cook, Schneider said.
Ninety out of 132 municipalities in the county have allowed video gambling, Schneider said, arguing that the expansion will allow business in unincorporated Cook County to compete with them and “level the playing field.”
Currently, electronic gambling devices in Cook County are taxed $1,000 per machine and $200 per year per terminal, according to Edward Nelson, a spokesman for the county’s finance bureau. Gambling revenue from incorporated areas of Cook County is expected to bring in $2.1 million this fiscal year, which is an increase from the year before, Nelson said in an email.
There was little debate over the measure inside the county building Wednesday, though commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, voted no, saying gambling can “create an undue burden on families.”
Schneider said video gambling is “carefully regulated.” Officials from municipalities that have adopted video gambling reported “limited or no problems,” he said.
Commissioners voted 9-1 in favor of the plan, with three voting present.
Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, called the expansion a “very bad idea.”
“More people will gamble,” Bedell said, and it will lead to increased social costs, including addiction and divorce.
“The money comes from residents that lose the money,” Bedell said.
Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, echoed Schneider’s points about creating a “level playing field” for business. He said this will generate new revenue without being a “mandated tax.”
“You gamble if you choose or you don’t,” he said.
The ordinance is effective Aug. 1.