The McHenry County Liquor and License Committee met Monday morning with an audience of liquor license holders pretty much filling the room.
According to Committee chairman Ken Koehler, there were 15 people testifying in favor of a vote on a resolution to legalize slot machines in taverns and restaurants with liquor licenses in unincorporated McHenry County. Four were in opposition.
Four testified in favor of keeping the ban on video poker in unincorporated areas.
The argument has shifted from when the legalization was defeated 13-10-3.
Then union members were arguing that money from video gambling was necessary to fund infrastructure improvements that would provide jobs.
Those folks were not in the committee room, as far as I could tell.
Instead tavern owners attended, arguing that there was an uneven playing field in their line of work with many municipalities having approved gambling in bars that competed directly with them.
Randy Kief, who owns a bar south of McHenry, gave an easy to understand example. He’s the one who presented a petition from liquor license owners, which was distributed to all County Board members.
“The problem now is the playing field is uneven.”
He told of missing two brothers, long-time customers, on Super Bowl Sunday. He discovered that they and their wives spent the day at a bar two miles away.
“The wives were playing the games while the guys were watching the game,” he related.
He added that he had heard of no problem that had been caused by the in-tavern gambling.
Another establishment owner, Tom Hensy of Horizontals Saloon, told of his business’ being “down 40% in food sales alone since December.”
He said there were “sixty establishments without gaming.”
On the other side of the argument was McHenry’s Joyce Story.
“Last year when I came before the Board, it came from a concern for my community, for our chi8ldren and the impact on their future.”
While she said she felt “bad for the people” asking for repeal of the prohibition of gambling, she argued, “It is not for the betterment of our community. It is for the detriment of our future.”
Story warned of businessmen trying to get liquor licenses just so they could get a video gaming license.
“We will have mini-casinos all over this community.
“We don’t want to become another Las Vegas…It will lead to the destruction of our community.”
Jack Meyer, owner of the Crystal Bowl, told of his initial opposition to having the machines.
But he has changed his mind.
He complained about the state’s having opened up casinos.
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
When testimony was completed, County Board member Joe Gottemoller asked how many votes it would take to pass the proposal.
The answer was three. And only three of the five members were in attendance.
Bob Nowak and Sue Draffkorn were absent.
Next Diane Evertsen spoke.
She noted that the last time the issue came up she was in the audience and heard people complaining that without video gambling customers would go to Wisconsin.
After taking a look at Wisconsin law, she concluded, ‘If there were in fact gambling in Wisconsin that was paying off, it was indeed illegal.”
Continuing on what happened the last time around, she said, “We saw the room absolutely stuffed with union members saying they would lose their homes [if video poker were not allowed.
“Two weeks later we saw those very same people across the street on strike.
“That’s my soap box.”
Gottemoller related that the neighbor next door when he was growing up [in LaSalle County] “had a slot machine in his home and I started using it at age 4.”
“I’m not thrilled that we’re gong to have gambling every place.
“I would at least move this forward to the County Board. If it takes three votes, it’s not going to happen today.”
“I’d say so,” Evertsen interjected.
The committee voted 3-0 to table the resolution until Monday, April 8th, at 10 AM. That is not the regular meeting date. It was set so that Chairman Koehler would be in town.