Godfrey residents to vote on video gambling
GODFREY, Jan 26, 2013 (The Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Opponents of video gambling in the village will get a chance to weigh in when an advisory question appears on April's ballot.
The question will appear as: "Should video gambling be permitted in the village of Godfrey "
If the majority of voters choose to answer "no," it will force the Village Board of Trustees to take action on the question again -- but it will not force the board to ban video gambling in the village.
Church congregations and a handful of pastors have spoken adamantly against this type of gambling at several different Village Board meetings. At one point, someone asked that the Village Board of Trustees let the citizens of Godfrey vote, yet trustees already had voted regarding the issue and at that time would not reconsider their vote.
Opponents took it into their own hands to gather at least the 533 signatures required to get the question, as an advisory to the Village Board of Trustees, on the April 9 ballot. Petitioners collected more than 600 signatures and met no challenges to the petition by the time they turned it in to Village Hall ahead of the deadline.
"It's strictly advisory," Village Attorney Tom Long said about the ballot question.
Video gambling went live Oct. 1 in Illinois. There are 14,000 eligible establishments in Illinois.
Sunset Grill on West Delmar in Godfrey now has video gambling up and running.
Last September, Emmanuel Free Methodist Church pastor Mark Scandrett asked trustees at a board meeting for an outright ban on video gaming, but trustees already had gotten behind a plan to slow gambling's spread by limiting new liquor licenses, which they had voted unanimously to pass at a previous meeting before Scandrett appealed to the board to ban the practice.
At the time of the September meeting, Scandrett noted that 80 Illinois communities had banned video gambling. The church's congregants also attended the meeting in support of their pastor.
When the trustees voted to limit liquor licenses in the village, it set them at the current number, which is at its maximum. In Godfrey, 15 businesses already have a "pour liquor license" and could apply for video gaming licenses. Each additional liquor license will be considered on a case-by-case situation. Of Godfrey's eligible businesses, five have applied with the state for the machines, Mayor Mike McCormick said Friday.
"We don't want a new business coming into town to just set up for video gambling," McCormick said. "Adding any more licenses will be done on an individual basis, on merit and type of operation."
Under the new Illinois Video Gaming Act, businesses with liquor licenses for locations where alcohol is consumed on the premises can have up to five video machines, which is decided by the state Gaming Commission. For an establishment to be approved for a license to have video machines, it has to jump through hoops and prove it is a responsible business, McCormick noted.
Scandrett also asked the Village Board at the September meeting that public hearings be held on the issue and that any recommendations from a committee, should one be formed, be considered by the board; no committee was formed. He also requested that, until the issue is reconsidered, the board place a temporary moratorium on video gambling.
But McCormick upheld the liquor license approach as a logical move.
"I think limiting liquor licenses, and issuing case-by-case, is a good idea, anyway," he said Friday. "For example, before Walmart came to town, they needed a license, and none was available in that classification. But we created a classification for such a business."
The board never would prevent a viable business from coming to the village by withholding a liquor license, McCormick said.
If the advisory ballot question prevails in advising to ban video gambling in the village, and the board does ultimately decide to pass an ordinance banning video gambling, the board could revoke video gambling at establishments that began the practice before such a ban took effect.
At a subsequent Village Board meeting, businesses and bar owners stood in the same room with opponents to argue their point that without video machines, they will lose business and be unable to compete with nearby municipalities, such as Alton, that allow video gaming.
Thus, trustees are wary of banning video gambling altogether.
Even fraternal orders, where Madison County authorities used to look the other way when it came to video gambling, no longer are allowing unauthorized video gaming in their establishments. In Village Board meetings, several different trustees mentioned that Godfrey fraternal orders had engaged in video gambling before the state established the new law.
"The state is so strict on this, if they don't have state permission, they're not doing it," McCormick said. "They would be in big trouble. Right now, there's very strict control about where machines are located and authorizing the license to have them."
The Calhoun County village of Hardin became one of the first in the region to amend its laws to allow video gaming in bars, and the Jersey County city of Grafton followed suit with a unanimous vote from its aldermen. Communities that have banned video gambling include Chicago, unincorporated Cook County, the majority of Chicago suburbs, Edwardsville, Maryville and Glen Carbon, where the issue was put in question form on the ballot as a mandate, not advisory, to the town's citizens, and it failed.
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