Illinois City Considers Lifting a Local Ban on Gaming Machines
Illinois public officials are trying to preside over a dispute between local business owners and anti-gaming activists over the fate of video gambling in their community. The township of Mahomet, with a population of 12,623, has become an example of the conflicting interests and arguments on Internet sweepstakes cafes.
Video gambling is illegal in Mahomet. Despite that fact, 11 different locations within an 11-mile radius of the town of Mahomet offer digital slot machines. Local residents told the News Gazette it made no sense to uphold the old laws, if such activities are taking place in the community. Some feel like it is “silly to hold out”, when other communities regulate and tax such business.
Mahomet Business Owners Want Ban Lifted
Rich Minick, who owns the Main Street Wingery, has petitioned the city council to lift the ban on video gaming. Minick told a local newspaper, “The argument that these video games prey on the people who don’t have the discipline or the income to play these games or gamble makes no sense. I don’t think a degenerative personality is just sitting in Mahomet waiting for this to pass.”
Mr. Minick said it is naive to think gamblers desist because their local community bans gambling. A dedicated gambler is certain to find a game, whether it is online or offline. He added, “It’s one of those things where we could sit by with blinders on and say by not having it here, we’re doing our community a favor, but we’re not. That money is still being spent; it’s just being spent in other communities.”
Local Reverend Opposes Gaming Machines
Reverend Erik Gustafson does not see it that way. Rev. Gustafson has called for the city to maintain its ban, stating this is about what the community represents. Tax revenues and gaming in other communities are irrelevent; the ban is about taking a stand against a lack of self-control, as well as a corrupting influence in the republic. People who rule themselves should not enact law simply because they can.
Rev. Gustafson added that doing right-and-wrong should not be about what everyone else is doing. The reverend said, “If people want to choose to go somewhere else to gamble, that’s fine. But as a pastor and cultural gatekeeper in this community, this is on my watch. I’m responsible for protecting and advocating for Mahomet because I live here and work here. I feel we should draw the line.”
Small Town Politics
Mahomet is an interesting case study for the outsider because it involves more than a simple morality-versus-pragmatism argument. The debate in the small Illinois town is more complicated than that, because it involves ancillary issues.
Back in the spring of 2015, Mahomet’s board members voted to approve the purchase of lawnmowers from a company in Savoy, a town of 7,000+ people also situated in Champaign County. Since then, residents have called for the board members to support local businesses, some of which are struggling.
Mayor Sean Widener Weighs Options
That makes it difficult for Mayor Sean Widener to enforce a ban which would hurt 11 local businesses. Mom-and-Pop stores often operate with a small margin between success and failure. The local business owners installed gaming machines in order to boost their revenues, in some cases in the hopes of staying in business at all. To enforce the ban might be to undermine the town’s tax base, while forcing local businesses into insolvency. And that would make the local officials unpopular.
Mayor Widener said, “I find it hard to implement bans that limit our businesses and the way they conduct their business on issues that are already legal elsewhere. It’s restricting.”
Champaign County EGM Laws
3 years ago, every other city and township in the county allowed gaming machines. Mahomet is the last municipality in the area with a ban on that style of gaming. Thus, if they enforce their ban, some patrons might simply drive down the road a few miles and gamble elsewhere. Meanwhile, they take other kinds of business to the next town over.
Justin Taylor, the owner of J.T. Walker’s, also petitioned the city to maintain his gaming machines. Taylor says that installing gaming machines like Triple Jack and Wheel of Gold allows him to add an attraction other local establishments have. It also gives him the cash to expand his dining room, thus grow his business. Taylor said the additional funds helped him give his employees a raise without hurting his own profits.
While Justin Taylor recognizes that slot machine-style gaming might encourage problem gambling, he said, “The benefits far outweigh the negatives.”
John Kindt: On Gambling
John Kindt, a University of Illinois business professor who has spent the last 15 years as an anti-gambling activist, disagrees with Mr. Taylor. He said gambling on slot machines takes a toll on a community, one which is both subtle and tragic. Dr. Kindt says communities lose more than they gain.
Kindt told the News Gazette, “The socioeconomic costs to the taxpayer are over $3 for every $1 of new tax revenue, as gambling facilities cause people to lose their resources and resort to crime.”
A Different Perspective
There are people who dispute John Kindt’s information. After Kindt appeared before a House sub-committee to discuss online gambling back in the spring of 2015, several publications debunked the professor’s arguments before Congress, saying he was still using statistics from 10 years ago to support fallacious arguments.
As one can see, such debates can continue endlessly. Both sides can appeal to authority, statistics, logic, common sense, and emotions. At the end of the day, every official has to make a judgment based on the sum total of that debate.
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