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Bar owners in unincorporated Lake County seek videogaming

LindBrown owner Brown's Sip-N-Go tavern unincorporated Antioch holds petitions allow video gaming businesses located unincorporated areas. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times

Linda Brown owner of Brown's Sip-N-Go tavern in unincorporated Antioch holds petitions to allow video gaming in businesses located in unincorporated areas. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 16, 2013 1:51AM

ANTIOCH TOWNSHIP — Tucked south of Grass Lake Road just west of the Chain O’ Lakes, Linda Brown’s Sip N’ Go falls into a no-man’s-land when it comes to the Illinois Gaming Act.

If she were in the Antioch or Spring Grove corporate boundaries, she would be allowed to install gambling machines, since those villages opted into the program in 2012. But because Sip N’ Go sits in unincorporated Lake County, it operates under a ban on videogaming that was put in place by the County Board in October 2009.

Brown is one of three tavern owners asking the County Board to revisit the issue, saying that they aren’t playing on a level field.

“I would just like the (same) opportunity as the bar right down the road who does have the gaming machines,” said Brown, adding that her tavern is “a tiny little place, and if (people) can go down the street and have a beer and play the machines for a couple of hours just to get out and relax, they’re going to do that. They’re not going to come to my little bar and have a beer and stare at the four walls. ... It’s just not fair to me how many other places in Lake County can do it and I can’t.”

Echoing that sentiment was Marlene Swoboda, owner of Dry Dock Saloon on the 27000 block of West Grass Lake Road, who told the County Board on Tuesday: “Why we are deprived of making (gaming revenue) to share with you is beyond my understanding.”

“I have no idea why we can’t have fair competition in business,” Swoboda added. “I am surrounded by gaming, and my customers, although they may be very loyal to my business, they go to Milwaukee, they go to Green Bay, they get on the buses to go to casino nights. ... They do this anyway. I think they would enjoy doing it at a place in their neighborhood.”

When the Illinois Gaming Act was passed in 2009, the legislation was designed to give communities the option of either maintaining an existing ban on electronic gambling or opting out of the program with new measures. The County Board voted 18-4 in October 2009 to opt out, with board members Audrey Nixon of North Chicago, David Stolman of Buffalo Grove and Terry Wilke of Round Lake Beach joined by former board member Melinda Bush of Grayslake in support of allowing video gaming.

Current board Chairman Aaron Lawlor of Vernon Hills was among those voting for the ban, and in discussing his reaction Thursday to the comments made before the board, Lawlor didn’t forecast a change on the horizon.

“I was one of the people who led the effort to ban videogaming in Lake County, (and) I haven’t heard from any board members who are interested in a reconsideration,” Lawlor said, though he added that “any board member can ask for it to be reconsidered in the standing committee that reviewed it.”

Lawlor said that his opposition to the issue stems in part from what he called Springfield’s “counterintuitive” decision to fund a capital-improvement program with a revenue bill that didn’t mandate participation from every community in the state.

“I am not a big proponent of gambling as a means to fund government,” he said, “(but) if they wanted to fund a capital bill, they should have taken a serious approach.”

Under the Video Gaming Act — which allows electronic gambling at licensed liquor-pouring establishments, along with truck stops and fraternal and/or veterans organization — host communities get 5 percent of net income after winnings are paid, with the state getting 25 percent, business owners 35 percent and machine operators 35 percent. According to information released at the time the county enacted its ban, 85 businesses would have been eligible for video gaming, including 54 bars, 21 restaurants and two fraternal organizations.

Rita Pavlin, district vice president of the Lake County Tavern Association and owner of Steve’s Sports Bar in Antioch Township, said she hopes the County Board revisit the ban from the standpoint of revenue for both businesses and the county.

“We’re struggling as it is to hold onto our businesses in this economy, and I’m not asking if you favor gaming or don’t favor gaming — it’s here,” Pavlin told County Board members. “These bars that have the machines are really pulling in money on them, making money for their communities and making money for themselves, and the county is giving up that money. And not only that, but because we’re struggling, our property value is going down. ... If I have to close, you’re losing me from the tax (rolls). I hope that you’ll reconsider it.”

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