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Like it or not, video gambling in Illinois bars and restaurants is here to stay.
Actually, it's been on the books since the governor signed the legislation in 2009. But with the regulatory bugs mainly worked out by the Illinois Gaming Board, the state is now beginning to accept applications for licenses, and representatives from gaming companies are approaching bar owners and showing the array of games they can install to generate more revenue.
That leaves towns like Brookfield out in the cold, unless the village board decides to repeal a law already on its books that bans payouts from such machines.
And that's why the village ought to act to amend its ordinance and legally allow the machines in the village. The state has decreed that such devices are critical to raising revenue for infrastructure projects in Illinois, and both municipalities and business owners are in line to receive a cut of the take.
It may not be the most glamorous or, if you prefer, righteous way to make a few extra bucks, but Brookfield shouldn't be in the business of legislating morality in any case. The state allows (in fact, is encouraging) video gambling in liquor establishments, and there's no reason to hamstring Brookfield's bars and restaurants by banning them.
Also, let's be frank, video poker machines - ones that pay out - have been part of the local bar scene for years. The village has had no way to regulate these machines or enforce penalties against those establishments that would abuse their use.
In 2004, Cook County Sheriff's Police raided two Brookfield establishments and charged them with illegal payouts on video poker machines. In 2009, they made another local raid.
To believe that the underground gambling market would disappear if Brookfield upheld its video gambling ban is nave. The state statute limits payouts, tracks how revenue is shared and makes transparent the impact that the gambling will have on the local bar scene.
If the practice becomes a problem, the village can move to crack down on it. Frankly, we don't see that happening. People like to go to the riverboats or Las Vegas and plunk down a few dollars on poker or the slots. The state's current set-up will serve to keep some of those dollars closer to home.
With respect to a separate village ordinance that limits the number of coin-operated machines in liquor establishments, we also believe Brookfield needs to re-examine that code in its entirety. Limits currently imposed by the board, with respect to the type of liquor license, appear entirely arbitrary.
Attempting to wedge the new allowance of video gambling machines into the current ordinance will force bar owners to risk losing income they already rely on. Perhaps there ought to be limits on the number of overall machines in an establishment, but we'd like to see the issue examined a little more closely before forcing that decision on bar owners.