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Despite a sure bet, aldermen delay vote on video gambling
Posted By Brandon Reid On January 20, 2010 @ 12:53 pm In Happening Now | 2 Comments
By Stuart R. Wahlin
The Rockford City Council delayed a vote Jan. 19 regarding whether the city would opt out of the Illinois Video Gambling Act, which is expected to fund as much as 30 percent of the state’s $31 billion capital plan for road and other infrastructure projects.
Although the video gambling plan clearly has the support of a majority of aldermen, no vote will be taken until Jan. 25.
Ald. Pat Curran (R-2), who introduced a resolution several weeks ago that would prohibit the video gambling machines in Rockford, said he’d planned to ask for a layover so fellow aldermen had more time to review the information. He never made the motion, however, indicating his colleagues were already decided on the issue.
By not opting out of the gambling plan, Curran said he believes the city is being short-sighted.
“My concern is that the promise of quick money that the gambling thing might bring to the city ignores…the social problems that fall out,” he explained, citing the allegedly highly-addictive nature of video gambling. “It’s different than blackjack and rolling dice and going to Vegas.”
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Board, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, wholeheartedly agreed video gambling is extremely addictive, citing examples from his own family.
“It affected our family tremendously, financially, emotionally, psychologically,” Board attested, calling gambling a “quick fix” and a “lose-lose proposition.”
Tom Dal Santo, businesses manager for Laborers Local 32, also addressed the matter of addiction.
“I, too, have a family of addiction,” he responded. “And it’s 15,000 construction craft workers in this town that need to go to work.
“We’re talking $400 million in construction,” Dal Santo added. “That’s a lot of work and that’s a lot of tuitions. That’s a lot of groceries and that’s a lot of tax money and revenues coming back into the city.”
Curran wasn’t so sure. Arguing his conscience implores him to vote in the best interest of the community, he asserted, “The benefits that we expect to see from this will not be all that great.
“I understand the dollars. I understand all that. It’s a temptation,” Curran acknowledged. “But I submit to you that the I’s haven’t been dotted and the T’s haven’t been crossed on this issue in Springfield.
“I think it’s a mistake,” he added. “I do not believe that government…should count on their funding methods, their balancing of their budget, their capital program, on gambling. What does it tell us? What does it tell our people? What does it tell the kids?”
Curran acknowledged the validity of the argument that if Rockford doesn’t embrace video gambling, its neighboring communities will, but warned, “Ultimately, this will come back to haunt us.”
He also expressed concern that the state’s gaming board won’t have enough people to regulate the new machines. Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6), however, noted the machines will be regulated remotely by the state.
Ald. Venita Hervey (D-5) indicated she plans to vote to take “no action” on Curran’s measure, but that it doesn’t mean she’s in favor of video gambling.
“This has to be one of the most rushed and poorly-written statutes I’ve seen in a long time,” she reported. “The regulations are not even written. I’m not sure what I would be voting on if I were voting for or against it, because it’s a huge void.
“The involvement of organized crime is always a concern in the gaming industry,” Hervey noted. “I’d like to know what provisions there will be to make sure that video gaming and other gaming industries, if they expand, don’t become mobbed-up. None of those questions are answered by the statute.”
Once she has a clearer picture of what the regulations would be, Hervey said, she may later propose another resolution for the city to opt out. Meantime, Hervey questioned how the revenues would be distributed.
“I have no confidence that Rockford would receive its fair share,” she asserted. “If the money does come to Rockford, I’ve never made a secret of my severe concerns with how public dollars are spent in Rockford. I don’t think it’s equitable. I don’t believe our ordinances provide enough protection for minority, small and women-owned businesses. Those dollars don’t flow fairly. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but it’s mine, and I want to see a lot more action that ensures that if Rockford allows video gambling, that it is going to have some modicum of benefit for the harm that it does cause.”
Ald. Jacobson argued regulations have been outlined and are available on the Illinois Coalition for Employment and Business Growth’s Web site. According to www.icfebg.com , the organization “is a coalition of Terminal Operators and Establishments who want to ensure thier [sic] future.”
Refuting Hervey’s concerns about organized crime, Jacobson responded, “You know, I heard the same thing when we had off-track betting coming.
“‘Down the pike, the mob’s gonna be in here, we’re gonna have all this crime,’” he paraphrased. “And all we got outta that was a lot of money for the city.”
Should aldermen decide to opt out, Jacobson warned the city stands to lose an estimated $3.6 million in direct revenue from the machines.
“If we opt out, will the city still be able to collect funding from the capital bill? The answer at this point is yes, we will,” he acknowledged. “However, presently there is pending legislation that would bar any governmental unit that opts out from receiving any funding from the capital bill.”
Jacobson argued: “Gambling is here. How many churches have bingo? Isn’t that gambling?”
He added video gambling could make the difference between whether an establishment can remain open, or will have to close its doors.
Bob Parvin, president of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, agreed.
“The smoking ban already hurt us,” Parvin explained. “Our business is struggling and we need help. Video gaming could be the help we need to survive.
“We could use that money here,” he added. “We can make this work, which will help both city and small ma-and-pa businesses, as well as hundreds of our employees.”
Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) reminded colleagues of the numerous calls received last year regarding the deplorable condition of state roads, which were causing damage to vehicles. She noted the city took it upon itself to make the roads safe.
“We juggled around dollars to try to meet the needs of this community, because this community was telling us…‘Fix our streets. Take care of the infrastructure,’” she recalled. “It’s up to the politicians to bring the money home in order to do these type of things and deliver the services. So, this city council heard exactly what our constituents were saying…and went to Springfield to talk to our legislators, to tell our legislators what our constituents are telling us—that we need to repair our streets, we need to look at our infrastructure, we need to put more dollars into that infrastructure, we need a capital plan passed so that we can address the very things that we have been requested to do.”
After the legislature responded with a capital bill in July that could mean $400 million for Winnebago County—the first in more than 10 years—Thompson-Kelly doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“I can’t say to my legislators: ‘No, take it back. We don’t want the dollars, because some individuals in our community is against this type of thing,’” she said.
Although apologizing to anti-gambling constituents, Thomson-Kelly explained the voices of those in favor of jobs and a capital plan were the most deafening. She, however, shared Hervey’s skepticism about whether Rockford would see its fair share, but encouraged constituents to contact their state legislators to demand it.
Like Curran, Thompson-Kelly said she’d vote her conscience, but that her conscience was telling her to support video gambling in Rockford.
Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), the only alderman to vote in favor of the ban in committee, said he felt the video gambling issue was being rushed.
Although the possibility of a casino has been discussed before on the council floor, Beach said, “This is a new issue that needs to be studied, and we need to have public opinion.”
Like Hervey, Beach said the statute leaves too many unanswered questions. Although confident the measure to opt out of video gambling would not pass, Beach said he’d like some guarantees from the state, but that none is being promised.
“I guess I understand that, but if we’re really talking about it, and we’re using all of that $400 million and all the jobs and all of that end of it to make a decision, and nobody can guarantee a thing, by what basis do you make that argument?” he asked fellow aldermen.
Doubtful his motion would prevail, Beach moved for a one week layover, which was seconded. Under the council’s rules, the motion only required a second for an automatic layover.
Once laid over, Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) complained he hadn’t gotten a chance to speak to the issue before the layover, despite the matter coming back to the table Jan. 25.
Should aldermen opt to embrace video gambling Jan.25, Ald. Mark (R-3) plans to introduce a resolution specifying that gambling revenues be earmarked for capital purchases, which the city cannot presently afford otherwise.
Other news and notes from the Jan. 19 Rockford City Council meeting
• Approving two task orders totaling $36,000 for McMahon Associates, Inc., for work related to the ongoing water system rehabilitation project.
• Amending the city’s Code of Ordinances to begin assessing $100 fines to facilities after three medical false alarm calls.
Community activist Prophet Yusef argued the need to compete with foreign countries for jobs through manufacturing, which he referred to as the “king of all industry.”
Doc Slafkosky, of J. R. Kortman Center for Design, thanked the city and its contractors for improvements to Main Street downtown, which included removal of the pedestrian mall, and for making the transition as smooth as possible for affected businesses and their customers. Slafkosky said he hopes the momentum will continue through elimination of one-way portions along the rest of Main Street.
The week of Jan. 19 was proclaimed Vote for the Phantom Regiment Week as the drum and bugle corps seeks to win a $1 million Chase Community Giving grant. The voting deadline is Jan. 22. For more information, visit www.regiment.org .
Aldermen convened in closed session to review previous closed session minutes.
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
URL to article: http://rockrivertimes.com/2010/01/20/despite-a-sure-bet-aldermen-delay-vote-on-video-gambling/
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