Urbana City Council to vote on video-gambling ordinance

The Urbana City Council will vote this week on a controversial video-gambling ordinance. The ordinance will decide whether the city of Urbana will allow video-gambling machines in bars and restaurants.

On Monday, council members will finally decide where the city stands on this issue.

At last week’s meeting, several stipulations of the ordinance were revised. As it currently stands, the ordinance states that businesses that want to have video-gambling machines must pay a $200 licensing fee. These businesses do not have to limit their entry to 21 year olds.

The initial proposal was revised so that now 12 licenses will be available to Urbana businesses versus the original six licenses. The state law on this issue is generally regarded as less restrictive than the Urbana law.

Last month, the Champaign City Council decided it would not ban video gambling. Staying competitive within the area for Urbana might mean needing to approve this ordinance. But many in the community have a problem with allowing gambling machines in local businesses.

The Urbana City Council has taken all of this information into consideration and believes the ordinance is reasonable as it stands.

“I support the ordinance as it’s revised because I think it strikes a middle ground between the points of view that we should ban it or it should be restricted,” Alderman Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said.

Alderman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, agreed that the law has been revised to try to please both proponents and opponents.

“I have no problem with the ordinance as it’s revised,” Smyth said. “It’s a more reasonable licensing price from a city point of view.”

Smyth and the other aldermen will have the ability to revise the ordinance later in the year should they see fit.

“We’re protecting ourselves in a way by limiting the number of licenses that will be granted,” Smyth explained. “But there is the ability to add more licenses.”

Not everyone sees the ordinance as being the best solution to the problem.

Alderman Robert Lewis, Ward 3, wants people to know the law may have more of an effect on our community than they think.

“Some will tell you the statistical impact of video-gambling machines is minimal,” Lewis said. “But I think economic times mean people are more inclined to take a chance and gamble.”

Besides being morally against gambling, Lewis thinks the ordinance might have unforeseen consequences.

“This might put additional stress on local law enforcement,” Lewis explained. “University students would have more access to gambling, and students shouldn’t be squandering their funds.”

Not passing this ordinance, however, might do more harm than help

for the city of Urbana.

“We’re taking a practical position at this point,” Smyth said. “People will always find a way to gamble if they want to, and it allows Urbana businesses to be on equal footing.”

The issue has been compared to that of alcohol prohibition, namely people will gamble regardless of whether it is a societal cost. The Urbana City Council says that they regard liquor licenses in the same way.

“If our business community needs this to be competitive, and it has no real impact on the city. I don’t see any reason why we should stand in the way,” Smyth said.

In 2009, the state approved its Video Gaming Act. The act imposed a tax on the net income of each machine and directs a percentage of those revenues to state projects.

Some of the aldermen believe the state needs to come up with better ways to raise funds.

“Making money off of gambling is a lousy way to fund government,” Smyth said. “In many cases, gambling takes advantage of those with lower incomes.”

Smyth explained how those in poverty may be more likely to seek out gambling as a means of desperately trying to find a way out.

“We may end up taxing people who may not be in a position to pay,” Smyth said. “Ironically, most of the time it ends up being the lower income people who can’t afford it.”

“I think that when this law was signed to raise revenues, it was misguided,” Lewis said. “I think it impacts more people than one could anticipate.”

This is a multifaceted issue that will undoubtedly remain controversial. The Urbana City Council will do their best to come up with a solution that keeps everyone’s interests in mind.

“We tried to find a balance, something we can live with,” Marlin said. “It won’t make everyone happy, but it strikes middle ground.”