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OUR VIEW: Senate bill strikes a heavy blow against local control

THE ISSUE: Proposed state law would expand video gaming to veterans groups
OUR VIEW: There’s a better way to empower communities to help solve the problem

Acknowledging a problem is good. Proposing a solution is helpful. But, especially when the government is involved, it’s important to tread lightly.

Last week the Illinois Senate voted 41-5 to approve a plan that would allow the state Gaming Board to give licensed veterans establishments permission to operate video gaming machines in areas that otherwise prohibit gambling.

The Daily Herald talked to state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, who sponsored the bill because groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are struggling to stay open as their membership declines. We’ve written about that issue locally as there are strong traditions for such groups in this area, as well as auxiliary chapters, and there is a real and persistent challenge about how to continue as the veteran populations change demographically with the passing years.

Link has long been a leading voice in gambling expansion in Illinois, so his support of this measure comes as no surprise. What is shocking is the widespread Senate support for a plan that so blatantly strikes against the concept of local control.

If a community has decided it does not want video gambling — well within the bounds of the state legislation that allowed such parlors in the first place — then where is the logic in granting one class to override that decision?

(For the record, state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, voted in favor, while Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was one of 13 Senators who didn’t cast a vote.)

“A community should have the right to decide what uses belong in their municipal boundaries,” said Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik.

The Daily Herald story noted Gurnee leaders organized the annual Legions of Craft Beer Festival to help American Legion Post 771 after denying requests for video gambling. The celebration has raised about $20,000 a year for the post, but that doesn’t match up with what a few video machines can generate.

Last year, Lake Zurich American Legion Post 964 took in $76,578 from video gambling, according to Illinois Gaming Board records. Elgin American Legion Post 57 made $46,574. Huntley American Legion Post 673 hauled in $116,700, according to Gaming Board records, using the influx to complete major facility renovations.

No one denies the ability of a new video parlor to generate a large amount of revenue in short order. Surely that’s been evident in our local communities that have approved video gambling. But the law allowing video parlors gave communities the choice of whether or not they’d participate. If lawmakers want to strip that provision entirely, they should have that debate. But piecemeal chipping away at local control is an unwelcome trend.

If the legislation passes, a local government body would retain a degree of power because they remain in control of approving liquor licenses, which state law requires for most facilities that operate video gambling machines. But that could easily be the next domino to fall as long as lawmakers are comfortable amassing jurisdiction.

“We still hold power over the liquor license, but what's not to stop a state legislator from taking that away from a local community?” Kovarik asked.

If lawmakers feel this strongly about using video gaming to fund flagging veteran groups, the solution isn’t carving the exception statewide, but rather amending the video gaming law to grant communities the power to make their own special dispensations.

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