Freeze on gambling: In or out?

Freeze on gambling: In or out?

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign City Council's vote Tuesday on extending a video-gaming moratorium until Jan. 23 will show how serious it is about added regulations on gambling providers.

The temporary moratorium, which bans installing and operating video-gaming terminals in newly licensed liquor-serving establishments, was passed on Feb. 21 and extended on April 11. It would expire on July 18 unless extended again.

Council members say the moratorium's purpose is to allow time for analysis and deliberation about more gambling regulations.

In Champaign — where more than a half billion dollars has been wagered since September 2012 — video gaming is regulated through liquor licenses and not a specific video-gambling license, which is the method Urbana uses.

Deputy City Manager Matt Roeschley said there will be a city council meeting this fall about the possible regulation methods, including ones used by cities nearby or of comparable size. If the council decides on a path then, he said, there will be enough time to prepare it before Jan. 23, plus some extra time in case of a delay.

"I think council was pretty clear that the majority is interested in regulating video gaming in some way which we don't do now," Roeschley said, noting that members are especially concerned about gambling parlors or cafes.

There are 60 places in Champaign with licensed video gambling, according to data from the Illinois Gaming Board. Some 28 of them are bars/restaurants, 17 are cafes/parlors and the rest are bingo halls/fraternal establishments, gas stations, bowling alleys, music venues, hotels or veterans' establishments.

Some council members have been concerned with this type of gambling becoming commonplace in the Champaign.

Council member Greg Stock said the gambling is "particularly present in low-income areas. I think that makes it borderline predatory for people in bad financial circumstances."

Other council members have said they want to avoid government overreach.

"I don't want government stepping in to exercise moral judgment every time someone spends their money in a manner I wouldn't spend mine or in a way that's foolish and wasteful," said council member Tom Bruno.

Roeschley said he isn't aware of the city receiving any negative feedback about the moratorium.

He also said applications for operating the gambling terminals have dried up since it was first allowed.

Illinois' Video Gaming Act, which legalized terminals in places licensed for alcohol consumption on the premises, was enacted July 2009. It also allows municipalities to ban gambling via an ordinance, which was done by Chicago.

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