by Chris Paulus
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove Village Hall on Tuesday was host to approximately 55 residents—some local, some from nearby villages—for the Sugar Grove Village Board’s discussion and vote regarding a proposed ordinance to temporarily allow video gaming in the community until the issue is included as a referendum on the April ballot.
The board voted 4-2 to approve temporary use of video gaming, with yes votes coming from trustees Bob Bohler, Rick Montalto, Mari Johnson and David Paluch. Trustees Kevin Geary and Thomas Renk voted no.
If the use of video gaming machines is rejected in the referendum, the license for use of the machines will be revoked.
Several members of the public in attendance spoke about the video gaming issue during comment, with many of the arguing points centered around ethical, moral, religious, political and economic grounds.
“For every dollar the state raises in gambling revenue, it costs the state $3 in social costs. We’re talking increases in bankruptcies, crime, divorce, unemployment, DUIs, foreclosures and, of course, a decrease in property values,” said David Smith, a representative of the Illinois Family Institute. “It’s not good public policy to bring gambling into your community, because what you’re doing is exploiting your own citizens to gain a revenue source.”
Vickie Haddaway, pastor of the Sugar Grove United Methodist Church, said that the UMC, in general, stands against gambling of any form.
“We feel that there’s already enough places for people to go, and we feel there’s already enough gambling in our state,” she said. “This preys on those who don’t have the resources, and all it does is diminish their capacity to enable themselves to better themselves.”
Some of the speakers in support of the machines spoke from a stance on economy.
“If we don’t level the playing field for the businesses in our community to make them competitive with other businesses that are surrounding our community, then those dollars will go elsewhere,” Sugar Grove resident Felice Coffman said.
Many American Legion members and supporters attended the meeting to support the use of machines.
“It is an equal footing for every business in town. You can’t just throw a protective bubble over Sugar Grove and pretend like our residents aren’t going to gamble—they just won’t gamble here,” said Cliff Barker, chaplain of the Sugar Grove American Legion. “Beer is legal in this town. So are cigarettes and so are lottery tickets. We could be a dry county. We could pass an ordinance. It wouldn’t stop alcohol sales— they’d just go elsewhere.”
Board members during the meeting expressed concern regarding the Sugar Grove American Legion’s economic situation. At the Village Board meeting on Dec. 18, Barker said the Legion would likely be out of money before the April referendum.
“I think we do (the veterans) a disservice when we take the position that to support them, we must immediately support gambling in Sugar Grove,” Sugar Grove resident Barb Nassaf said. “It is also a disservice to the people in Sugar Grove who are scheduled to vote on this topic within months. To open the back door to gambling now would be a slap in the face to the voting process here in Sugar Grove.”
Renk and Geary both said they thought the video gaming decision should wait until the April referendum. Paluch and Montalto, citing concern about the Legion’s economic status, said they hoped the machines would bring in revenue for the Legion.
“We appreciate the comments from both sides—people in favor and against video gambling,” Village President Sean Michels later said. “People are passionate on both sides. However, it’s important to realize that we’re talking about a maximum of $2 per bet. Video gaming is allowed in other towns, so we do need to balance the fact that we’re trying to allow our businesses to be competitive with nearby businesses.”