County board, city councils could deal video gambling ban

On Nov. 12, the Champaign County Board and Urbana and Champaign city councils will hear testimonies about the legalization of video gambling.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill on July 13 which legalized video gambling as a revenue source for public establishments in the state. Thus far, Cook, DuPage, Lake County and several communities have banned video gambling.

A county ban would apply to unincorporated areas, while the law gives individual communities the right to ban it within their own borders.

The passage of the bill has drawn critics, including John Kindt, professor and opponent of gambling. He said he believes video gambling lobbyists have ignored the consequences of introducing the machines into the community. He added that video gambling machines in the Urbana-Champaign area could be detrimental to students.

“In a college community, these machines are particularly problematic because young people are showing double the gambling addiction rate of the older generation,” he said.

Other communities have seen students lose their tuition money and become self-destructive because of their gambling losses.

Anirban Mukhopadhyay, senior in Engineering, also said he fears that introducing video gambling to Urbana-Champaign could have an adverse effect on the student population.

“I think it could get some students in trouble,” he said. “I know someone who lost one grand at a casino in Vegas.”

However, President of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association Tom Fiedler said criticism levied toward the machines’ legalization is unfounded.

“It is a recreational activity that will supplement the incomes of bar owners,” he added.

The maximum payout per hand is $500, while the maximum wager per hand is $2, according to the Illinois Video Gaming Act, Fiedler said these limits will curb large wins and losses, as well as stop potentially harmful gambling habits.

“One has to increase their bet to get bigger wins, but these machines don’t allow it,” Fiedler said.

Thomas Betz, director of student legal services at the University and member of the Champaign County Board for District 8, described the passing of the bill as an important victory for the gambling lobby.

“It is the largest single expansion of gambling outside the state of Nevada,” he said. “This is big.”

He added that he has provided consultations to students that have incurred large gambling debts.

“I have students run up very big debts online. Some in the $60 to $70 grand range,” he said. “People will use multiple credit cards, it is addictive.”

The estimated profits from video gaming machines in the county are expected to be around $80,000 if the board does not ban them, Betz said.

“It is a great money maker for the person who owns the machine. It is not a good money maker for the tax payer,” he added.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, District 103, said she voted in favor of the act because of the funding it would provide for construction projects at the University. These projects include the renovation of Lincoln Hall and the construction of an electrical engineering building.

She said she voted against expansion of video gambling in the past; however, because video gaming machines are already being used in the area, she voted in favor of it.

“If people are going to use them, the state should benefit,” she said. State Sen. Mike Frerichs, District 52, also said he voted for the bill to help fund projects for the University and surrounding community that were long overdue.

“This is the first time we are acknowledging there are literally thousands of machines out there,” Frerichs said. “And the local authorities have turned a blind eye to them. We might as well regulate and tax them.”

Fred Gottheil, professor at the University of Illinois, said that the gambling industry overlooks the negative economic consequences, including the cost of a family member addicted to gambling. While he said that he does not personally oppose gambling, he said the financial gain will not solve the state’s problems in the long-term.

“It does not improve society’s well-being,” he said. “The idea that somehow this is generating more money and causing additional spending is a little disingenuous.”

The date that the bill will be voted upon has yet to be decided.