QC towns grapple with video gambling

In 2012, as video gambling began in Illinois, Geneseo voted to ban it.

In 2015, as every surrounding community embraced video gambling, Geneseo refused.

On Tuesday, as video gambling revenue reaches record highs in Illinois, Geneseo continued to say “No.”

January 2019, an investigation by Propublica Illinois sparked controversy over the moral ramifications of profits made from video gambling. The Propublica investigation found that video gambling devices are heavily populated in poor communities and virtually non existent in areas with elevated wealth.

In the aftermath of this controversy, Geneseo and Silvis, IL have both held votes on video gambling in the last two weeks.

Geneseo, IL

In a blow to the QC area gambling industry, Geneseo upheld their ban on video gambling Tuesday evening, March 26. Geneseo is the only municipality in Henry County to ban video gambling, and one of two communities in the Illinois Quad City area to do so.

Video gambling, often considered a profit booster for bars in rural Illinois was legalized by the state legislature in 2009. The first machines were installed in 2012.

The Geneseo City Council heard from the public on Tuesday evening as they considered legalizing video gambling.

“It looks like we have a large crowd. Anybody have anything they’d like to share?” Mayor Kathy Caroll-Duda asked the full room.

Of the 31 people in attendance, eight Geneseo residents stood and gave impassioned speeches about video gambling. In each of their speeches, it was mentioned that being political is not something they would typically do.

Reverend Chris Ritter, representing the Geneseo Ministerial Association, spoke first.

“It seems like an easy way to raise revenue,” Rev. Ritter said. “But I think there is a cost attached to this. The money that goes into these gambling machines gets sucked out of our community.”

Where the money goes is determined by tax rates. Current tax rates for video gambling revenue provides 35% to the machine supplier, 35% to the local business, 25% to state government, and 5% to local government.

In a letter signed by 14 Geneseo church leaders and provided to the council by Rev. Ritter, the Geneseo Ministerial Association states, “The city council has done well to keep a balance that is both business-friendly and family-friendly. To make gambling more prevalent in the community through video gaming will impact this balance negatively.”

Other Geneseo residents in opposition to video gambling cited health concerns, morality, financial data, and community atmosphere.

“Anyone who’s ever looked into [a video gaming parlor] can see that there’s no joy,” Jim Mason, a resident of the first ward, said.

One resident, who did not provide his name, disagreed with the rest.

“People are gambling,” he said. “You can have your nice utopia here, but you’re losing money to Atkinson and Kewanee.”

Kewanee, a neighboring city of Geneseo, had a total of 98 gambling machines in 2018. Of the $3.2 million made in revenue that year with video gambling, $161,983, or 5 percent, went to the city of Kewanee.

“A lot of people don’t understand what we’re facing,” Geneseo Alderman Martin Rothschild, a proponent of the gambling ordinance, said. “In terms of paying for things and getting things done. I’m not trying to gavel in video gambling, but we are facing some really hard decisions, and we have lost businesses.”

In the wake of public opposition, the Geneseo City Council chose not to legalize video gambling.

“This was worse than the chickens,” an alderman said in reference to a proposal that would have allowed small flocks of chickens to live in city yards, which sparked an uproar among Geneseo residents last month.

When the decision was made to uphold a ban on video gambling, the room of Geneseo residents cheered.

Silvis, IL

In October 2012, Silvis IL made headlines as one of 65 locations in Illinois to be the first to activate video gambling machines.

Two weeks ago, the Silvis Ordinance Committee considered legislation to place a limit on video gambling.

No Silvis residents attended the meeting.

For Silvis alderman Larry A York, the extra money is not worth the risk. “This is my problem.” He said, leaning forward in his chair. “Who are the people using [video gambling machines]? Is it the people who can least afford to lose the money?”

“That’s how it usually goes, yes,” Mayor Matt Carter said.

As of February, there are nine approved gambling licenses and 42 video gambling machines in Silvis, IL. The ordinance would have placed a limit on the number of available licenses.

For many Silvis aldermen, regulating video gambling seemed unnecessary.

“I think the market will regulate itself,” alderman Tony Trulson said. “I don’t see a need for it. If there was a need, I’d love to hear it.”

“Would you like to see video gambling open up next to low income housing?” Mayor Matt Carter said. No one responded directly to the question, but several aldermen muttered the word “no.”

One week later, the Silvis City Council voted to kill the video gambling ordinance, ending talks of regulation in the city.

Silvis has the only gamblers anonymous program within 60 miles of the Quad Cities on the Illinois side. According to alderman Trulson, the Silvis City Council has not reached out to Gamblers Anonymous for input.

Gambling addiction, also known as “Problem Gambling” was named an addictive disorder in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association.

“No one is contacting me about this.” Mr. Trulson said, making a comparison to a previous ordinance for which he received dozens of emails.

In regards to video gambling, the two central questions local governments ask are: Does gambling create new revenue? And, is gambling healthy?

In a series of follow up articles, WQAD News 8 will examine these questions and the relationship video gambling has with the Quad City Area.

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