Urbana council passes limited video-gambling, 4-3

Urbana council passes limited video-gambling, 4-3

URBANA — A new ordinance permitting video gambling narrowly passed during an Urbana City Council meeting on Monday night, when representatives voted 4-3 to allow a limited version of the program that begins on Wednesday.

The first video gambling machines are expected to light up around the state on Aug. 1, the result of a relatively new state law that permits the games and places a 30 percent tax on the income the machines produce. Of that, 25 percent will pay for the state's capital projects and the other 5 percent will be paid to local governments.

Cities everywhere were given the option to allow or deny video gambling in their hometowns, and Urbana officials took a route that they call the "middle ground."

Under the new ordinance, up to 12 businesses can be licensed by the city to operate video gambling machines. They'll have to pay a $200-per-machine fee for up to five machines.

"This has been almost a unique experience in the sense that we're making nobody happy," said Alderman Eric Jakobsson, D-Ward 2, who voted for the ordinance.

The ordinance neither completely disallows video gambling, a move that has been met with opposition from business owners, nor does it completely allow it, a move that has been met with opposition from those who worry about the vices of gambling.

Alderwoman Diane Marlin D-Ward 7, said there are very strong opinions on both sides, and that is one of the reason she voted for the ordinance.

"I think it's our responsibility to find a middle ground," she said.

Two of the three council members who voted against the proposal — alderpersons Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, Robert Lewis and Heather Stevenson — did so for completely different reasons.

"Some of the constituents that have called me and sent emails to me, I will have to speak for those few," Lewis said. In June, Lewis opposed the ordinance because he said video gambling will affect the city's most vulnerable populations.

Stevenson, on the other hand, opposed putting any restrictions on businesses at all. She said the limits the ordinance puts on video gambling are unnecessary under a state law that already sets rules for how video gambling will be governed.

"I don't want to be seen as the government that tries to be the babysitter of people, especially adults," she said.