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Will County Board could overturn 2015 ban on more gambling machines

Next month, the Will County Board will consider allowing more video gaming in unincorporated areas.

Four years ago, the board voted to ban new video gaming licenses, although it grandfathered in businesses and organizations which were already licensed. Now some board members and residents say it would only be fair to allow all those in unincorporated areas the same opportunities to generate more revenue.

This vote comes not long after the state legislature legalized sports betting and allowed the opening of six new casinos across the state. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker praised the passage of legalized sports betting and said in a news release that expanded gaming “will create jobs up and down the state, from Rockford to Chicago to Walker’s Bluff, where communities hungry for employment will see 10,000 new jobs.”

When the state last passed a massive expansion of gambling about a decade ago with the Video Gaming Act of 2009, it gave municipalities the right to opt out of allowing video gaming within their borders. 

In the years after that law was passed, video gaming expanded throughout Will County. However, some municipalities, such as Plainfield, decided to opt out of allowing video gambling. 

In 2015, the County Board voted to prohibit additional video gaming licenses in unincorporated parts of the county. The vote was 13-9 with mostly Republicans, who were in the majority at the time, voting to ban video gaming and mostly Democrats voting against the ban. 

Some locations, such as the Links Bar & Grille in unincorporated Plainfied’s Carillon subdivision, jumped at the chance before the county implemented the ban.

Jeff Yackley, Carillon’s director of golf, said they have five machines which have provided extra revenue. He also said that they have not experienced problems associated with having the machines and that residents and patrons enjoy using them.

Now establishments such as the Fort Erie Elks Lodge, a fraternal organization in unincorporated Lockport first established in 1909, want to see more video gaming allowed by the county. 

“We just want some extra income,” said Fred Henderson, 84, an organization member.

Members of the Fort Erie Elks said when they decided a few years ago that it might be beneficial to get video gaming machines, they learned that the county already had banned more licenses.  

Even Will County Board members such as Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, who voted for prohibiting more gaming, is saying he now is in favor of allowing it now. Balich said he thinks groups that do charitable work, such as the Fort Erie Elks, should be able to take advantage of the new revenue source.

“You have all these groups and they’re having trouble supporting themselves,” Balich said. “So if they had video gambling, that would help them stay alive.”

However, board members such as Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, who also was for the ban in 2015, have kept their stance.

Moustis said that although he’s not against gambling at places such as casinos, he doesn’t want to see it spread throughout local communities.

“I don’t see one positive aspect where people benefit from this,” Moustis said. “Who benefits from this localized gambling?”

While members of both parties have mixed feelings on video gaming, some see it more as an issue of fairness.

“I still think that it’s unfair that we allow some businesses in the county to do it and others not to,” said Tyler Marcum, D-Joliet. “I don’t think that any government should prohibit a fair business environment.”