IL Gov. Signs Video Poker Bill

Published November 23, 2009

Lawmakers have approved a huge expansion of gambling in Illinois, but stiff opposition from local leaders and citizens is growing.

Acting Governor Pat Quinn (D) has signed a bill allowing thousands of video gambling machines to be installed in restaurants and taverns around the state, but the bill includes an ‘opt-out’ for local governments, and some are using the provision to ban the gambling machines.

The Democratic Party-dominated Cook County Board voted to opt out of video gambling in unincorporated areas in October. Cook is the largest county in Illinois and includes the City of Chicago. Several weeks before the Cook County Board voted to opt out, the state’s second-biggest county—Republican Party-dominated DuPage—had banned the machines in unincorporated areas. DuPage borders Cook County on the west.

An ordinance sponsored by DuPage Board Member Debra Olson (R) and favored by County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom (R), who is running for the Republican Party nomination for governor, was unanimously approved, making DuPage the first county in Illinois to take such action.

According to Olson, “The local share [of revenue] allowed by the bill would have been completely dwarfed by regulatory, law enforcement, and the social costs of video poker [in DuPage County].”

Citizens Had No Chance
The Illinois legislature passed the video gambling bill in May as a revenue source for a $31 billion state construction program. The bill allows video gambling (poker and blackjack) in bars, restaurants, social clubs, and even gas stations and airport lounges. But the battle over this revenue source appears to have just begun.

Schillerstrom helped lead the DuPage County vote against the video gambling expansion and complained about what he characterized as a secret and ad hoc process state lawmakers followed in passing the bill.

“The video poker legislation passed by our state leaders represents the largest expansion of gambling in Illinois history—and it was done without public hearings, without a plan for implementation, and without reliable revenue estimates,” he said.

“Illinois families should be able to go out to dinner without contemplating which restaurants offer state-sponsored poker. That is why I support banning the machines in my county, and why I encourage other local governments to do the same,” he added.

Opposition Grows
Lake County, which borders Cook County on the north, expects to decide on whether to ban video gambling in its unincorporated areas by year’s end.

State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) hopes to persuade his home county of McHenry to ban video gambling. In a letter to McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler (R), who supports video gambling, Franks wrote, “Video poker machines are more addictive than casinos and racetracks because they represent ‘convenience’ gambling available in any corner bar on most Main Streets.”

Franks voted ‘no’ on the plan for expanded gambling.

According to a September poll by the Chicago Tribune and WGN television in Chicago, “58 percent of voters would vote against legalized video gambling in a local referendum, while just 34 percent would support it. Opposition was about 60 percent from voters in suburban Cook County, the collar counties [including DuPage] and Downstate, while 49 percent of Chicago voters said they would vote against it and 42 percent for it.”

Cook Stirs Pot
After the DuPage County board passed its ban, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D) said, “I think you will see activity like this around the state. We have been in contact with colleagues in every county probably north of [Interstate] 80 who are interested in doing this very same thing. And I know that there’s other interest throughout the state.”

Gainer said developed the ordinance to ban video gambling in unincorporated areas of Cook County. She said at least 15 local governments have banned video gambling, and she expects the number to grow.

“Video poker is banned in the following Illinois Counties and cities: Beach Park, Carbondale, Country Club Hills, DuPage County, Elburn, Evanston, Glenview, Kildeer, Lake Forest, Mettawa, Naperville, Northbrook, Rochester, Rosemont, and Wilmette,” Gainer said.

DuPage’s Schillerstrom and Gov. Quinn might meet head-to-head in the next election for governor. This alone could keep the video poker debate alive for months to come.

Report Slams Gambling
Anti-gambling forces may have been handed ammunition from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, which in September issued a report[avail online for Internet Info item?]it’s in Britt’s gambling article critical of legalizing more forms of gambling as a means of funding more government through the taxes raised.

“The historical tendency for revenues from existing gambling operations to grow at a significantly slower pace than other state revenues may hold important lessons for states as policymakers consider further expansion of casinos, racinos, and other gambling activities,” Rockefeller Institute Deputy Director Robert B. Ward and Senior Policy Analyst Lucy Dadayan wrote in the report. “Expenditures on education and other programs will generally grow more rapidly than gambling revenue over time. Thus, new gambling operations that are intended to pay for normal increases in general state spending may add to, rather than ease, long-term budget imbalances.”

John Skorburg ([email protected]) is associate editor of Budget & Tax News and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.