North Aurora recently joined the ranks of villages and cities in Illinois approving video gambling within their municipal limits.
Reflecting the contentious nature of just about any gambling-related debate, on July 16, North Aurora trustees, by a 4-2 vote, reversed an earlier decision that would have quashed businesses’ ambitions of supplementing their income through video gaming machines.
We have expressed past reservations about expanding video gambling, and stand by those moral and pragmatic concerns.
Anything that has the potential to exploit a societal ill – which legalized gambling surely has proven it can do – gives us pause. On a practical level, video gambling has proven it can be a unreliable revenue-generator for businesses and towns. Even North Aurora village administrator Wes Kornowske acknowledges revenue projections for video gambling in the village are “very nebulous at this point.”
Despite our concerns, we support a local municipality’s right to act as it sees fit for its community. Allowing video gambling is never cause for enthusiasm on our part, but in a locale like North Aurora – where, in addition to an existing off-track betting facility, residents are only a few minutes away from a full-fledged casino in Aurora – adding video gambling machines might be less jarring to residents than in other communities.
Municipal attitudes about video gambling remain a mixed bag, locally and statewide, in the aftermath of the state’s 2009 Video Gaming Act, which allows businesses with liquor licenses to have up to five video poker machines. In Kane County, Batavia, St. Charles and Elburn are among municipalities that have maintained bans; whereas Geneva has opted to allow. There, Sergio’s Cantina has applied for a state video gaming license from the Illinois Gaming Board.
In North Aurora, The Turf Room – which houses the off-track betting facility – and The Little Red Schoolhouse have applied for licenses. If awarded, the licenses must be renewed annually though the Illinois Gaming Board, and Kornowske said the village could pull an establishment’s liquor license if problems arise.
Video gambling terminals must be in areas restricted to people 21 and older, and those younger than 21 cannot play. Kornowske said North Aurora has not seen an uptick in criminal activity stemming from off-track betting.
Yet, even if video gambling machines do not lead directly to crime, gambling’s addictive nature and potentially modest pay-offs for businesses and municipalities mean North Aurora and others should monitor this experiment closely and consider whether the greater good is being served.