URBANA — With little enthusiasm, the Urbana City Council approved allowing bars and restaurants to increase the number of video-gambling terminals they can install from five to six.
The ordinance passed 4-1, with Alderwoman Maryalice Wu abstaining and Alderman Bill Brown voting no.
Champaign passed a similar ordinance last year in response to a change in state law allowing an increase to six terminals.
“The cat’s out of the bag as far as local gambling in Urbana,” Alderman Dennis Roberts said. “I don’t want to encourage it, but I don’t think that the city can necessarily legislate morals.”
But Brown argued that limiting gambling wouldn’t be legislating morals.
“There’s nothing immoral about gambling. It’s not a sin to be poor,” he said. “It’s exploitation by government and by the video-gambling businesses.”
He argued that “we have to be careful about how much it expands, how convenient you make it.”
City staff said 16 local business owners requested the increase and noted it would allow businesses to offset the cost of an increased minimum wage and losses from the pandemic.
Of the 21 businesses with video-gambling terminals in Urbana, 18 have five terminals.
In the past year, more than $75 million has been wagered at video-gambling terminals in Urbana, losing $6 million in the process.
Over that time, the state has received $1.75 million in taxes from the machines, and Urbana has received about $308,000, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.
Alderwomen Shirese Hursey and Wu said they didn’t thinking adding one terminal would make much of a difference.
“Six video games versus five video games — they’re going to play where they’re going to play,” she said, noting that she had struggled with how to vote.
“I’ve been on the fence about this all day,” Wu said, ultimately deciding to abstain rather than vote no.