Will County Board approves video gaming ban

Karen Sorensen | 4/16/2015, 1:49 p.m.
Businesses that already have licenses from the state will be able to keep them, but no new licenses will be ...
Will County has 31 unincorporated businesses that offer video poker and other gambling machines to patrons.

Will County voted to ban video gaming Thursday, making it the first government in Illinois to "opt out" of the program after allowing it for three years.

The move will have no effect on those 122 machines that are already licensed to operate in unincorporated Will, but it will stop any new licenses from being issued.

The decision was not a unanimous one, with nine board members voting to keep the status quo and allow gambling to continue.

Board Chairman Jim Moustis (R-Frankfort) initiated the change, charging that the county board was wrong to have not taken a vote on the matter before the state started issuing licenses in 2012. The failure to act was a tacit approval.

The proliferation of machines in gas stations, casino "cafes" and other businesses beyond bars and restaurants began to trouble Moustis, he said.

"When this was first introduced, I opposed it. I oppose it now," Moustis said. "But it was brought forward to us in the sense that this would be only in basically bars or certainly age-restricted establishments.

"We decided as a board to wait until we'd seen the rules (before taking a vote). We felt if the rules were sufficient, that if there were sufficient protections, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Nothing could be further from that. The state of Illinois wrote rules that basically allowed this anywhere."

Beyond that, Moustis said, there is a "total lack of control or oversight in Will County" because the state oversees the licensing and operation of the machines.

The state also reaps the greatest portion of the profits beyond what business owners pocket.

Since March 2012, when the first video gaming licenses were issued, gamblers have pumped more than $64 million into 122 machines in Will County and lost $5.193 million, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. Of the money lost, $1.558 million went to the business owners, $1.258 million to the state and $259,694 to the county.

Initially, Moustis' executive committee considered finding a way to restrict businesses from obtaining gaming machine licenses by placing limits on liquor licenses but ultimately decided an all-out ban was the only simple and true way to cap the expansion.

"I think (video gaming) is overwhelmingly opposed by the residents," Moustis said. "It seems to me if you were really representing the people, you would flat out, straight out say, 'This is a bad idea.'"

Board member Chuck Maher (R-Naperville) said he believes the people in the towns he represents -- Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Naperville -- would agree with that sentiment. All three towns opted not to allow video gaming before the state started issuing licenses.

However, board member Robert Howard (D-Beecher) said he believed it shouldn't be the board's decision as to whether people gamble or do not. He used the analogy of McDonald's -- most people know it's not good for their health to eat there, but the government doesn't ban the fast food restaurant chain because they respect people's right to choose, he said.

"It's a matter of personal choice," Howard said. "If I can't afford to (do something), I don't do it."

The board members to vote against the ban were Howard, Don Moran (D-Romeoville), Beth Rice (D-Bolingbrook), Jacqueline Traynere (D-Bolingbrook), Don Gould (R-Shorewood), Joe Babich (D-Joliet), Steve Wilhelmi (D-Joliet), Liz Collins (R-Plainfield) and Mark Ferry (D-Plainfield).

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen@TheTimesWeekly.com.