News and notes from the Jan. 11 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
A week after the Rockford City Council’s Codes and Regulations Committee voted 4-1 against a measure that would exempt the city from the state’s video gambling expansion, the resolution by Ald. Pat Curran (R-2) returned to the council floor with a recommendation that no action be taken. Per procedure, the report was laid over for one week.
The General Assembly passed the Illinois Video Gambling Act last year as one of several funding sources for a $31 billion capital plan after more than a decade without such a plan. The capital bill aims to give the green light to road and other infrastructure projects that have been on hold throughout the state.
An estimated $400 million is earmarked for Winnebago County alone, but that number could decrease as the number of communities—55 municipalities and five counties—opting out of video gambling rises.
Now, aldermen will have to decide whether a video gambling ban within city limits is worth taking dollars away from the state’s construction and jobs program.
Although video gaming machines are already present in establishments throughout the state, they are intended solely for entertainment purposes, but some club and tavern owners privately issue payouts to players without state approval.
That will change once state-regulated machines start appearing in truck stops, bars and private clubs. But for some, video gambling is not a welcome addition to the city.
The Rev. Dr. J. Michael Solberg, senior pastor at Second Congregational United Church of Christ and longtime gambling opponent, referred to the video machines as the “crack cocaine of gambling,” because of their allegedly addictive nature.
“The economics are not the same as other forms of gambling,” he said. “When the General Assembly passed the video gaming act last summer in Springfield, they did not sit down and carefully consider how this form of gambling would affect local communities. They saw dollar signs to support their road construction plan, and they pushed the ‘yes’ button, and that’s about how much thought went into it.”
Solberg also asserted the social costs of video gambling would far outweigh its benefits.
“For every $1 of social gain, there are at least 1.7 dollars—and probably more—of social costs,” he argued. “So, if you want to build a road for a dollar, you’re really paying $1.70 for it. It just doesn’t make economic sense.
“Gambling in general doesn’t add anything to a local economy,” he added. “It doesn’t create anything. It’s not productive. In fact, the evidence shows that for every 40 video gambling machines that come into a community, a million dollars is drained from that local economy.”
According to Solberg, approximately 200 Rockford establishments would be eligible for the machines, which he said would equate to a $20 million drain on the local economy.
Solberg urged aldermen to investigate the facts about video gambling before the matter comes to a vote Jan. 19.
So far, Aldermen Curran and Frank Beach (R-10) are the only clear opponents on the council to video gambling in Rockford.
• Recommending the Police Department award the remaining $25,000 balance of a police consulting services contract to Alex Weiss Consulting. In August 2008, aldermen awarded a $75,000 consulting contract to the now-defunct PAR Group, of Lake Bluff, where Weiss was employed before starting his own consulting firm. Police Chief Chet Epperson studied under Weiss at Northwestern University. Ald. Linda McNeely voted “no.”
• Awarding contracts for automotive parts and supplies to Rock Valley Distributing, of Loves Park, Carquest, and Motor Parts and Equipment.
• Approving a brokerage services agreement with PNC Bank, of Pittsburgh, at a rate of 3-5 basis points per trade.
• Approving an Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) out-of-state credit authorization for the Community Development Department’s Bonnie Henry.
Ald. John Beck (R-12) was absent.
From the Jan. 13-19, 2010 issue.