CHAMPAIGN — Businesses with video-gambling machines now have the option of adding one more after the city council voted Tuesday to increase the maximum allowed from five to six, which brings the city’s limit in line with the state’s.
The ordinance was also amended to peg Champaign’s limit to the state’s to avoid having to update the city code every time it changes in the future.
The proposal was approved 7-2, with at-large council member Will Kyles and District 4 representative Greg Stock voting against it.
“I get that maybe it isn’t government’s palace to tell people how to spend their money, but we’re also called upon regularly to help people with homeless issues and to help people with poverty issues,” Stock said. “And we’re contributing to that by making this readily available to throw away your money. It’s not buying a lottery ticket and in three days they’ll do a drawing.”
The state law increasing the limit also increased the maximum allowed wager from $2 to $4, though that didn’t require council action.
“Now you can lose twice as much money,” Stock said. “Let’s see in three months how much money is lost, because the number will not get smaller.”
In the last fiscal year, gamblers lost $16.8 million at video-gambling machines in Champaign, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.
Tuesday’s vote came after resident Tynan O’Neil spoke against the increase.
“I’m deeply concerned with the number of gambling establishments, particularly in lower-income areas within our community,” he said. “It really serves to decrease the amount of income that can be placed in the hands of our residents to pay for rent, to pay for food. ... I don’t think this is a good thing for the community.”
At-large council member Tom Bruno voted for the increase, comparing the machines to the aisles in a liquor store.
“Any attempt at artificially limiting the number of terminals would be about as useful a way to address gambling as it would be to address alcoholism by limiting the number of aisles a liquor store could have, as if somehow that was going to solve the problem,” Bruno said. “There are people who allow themselves to become addicted to tobacco, alcohol and gambling, and other things, but there are other people who enjoy this industry and are not addicted and are making a conscious decision that this is how they want to buy their entertainment.”
The city charges a $250 fee for each terminal, so the increase could generate another $13,000 annually from fees alone.
The increase comes nearly two years after the city passed a number of regulations on video gambling.
The machines were legalized in 2012, and the city had been using liquor licenses to regulate the businesses that have them.
But after a number of video-gambling cafes or lounges opened, the city created licenses for them and capped those at 23.
In the past fiscal year, the city received $840,000 in revenue from the machines, or about $2,990 from each of the 281 machines at 61 businesses.
All but 12 of those establishments currently have five terminals.
The new maximum in Champaign goes into effect immediately.