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Mayor’s vote clears way for video gaming in Beach Park

Mayor John Hucker's vote broke 3-3 tie cleared way for video gaming come Beach Park. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Mayor John Hucker's vote broke a 3-3 tie and cleared the way for video gaming to come to Beach Park. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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When Beach Park’s village officials voted to change their position from a 2009 “no” on video gaming in their community to a 2014 “yes,” it certainly wasn’t the first government entity in Lake County to reverse course.

In 2009, the Lake County Board voted 18-4 to ban video gaming in unincorporated areas on the county.

That position was overturned in 2013 by an 11-9 vote that allowed 87 establishments outside of municipal limits to set up video-gambling terminals.

The reason for the county’s reversal was exactly the same as it was for the change of position in Beach Park — that businesses that don’t have video gaming are at a competitive disadvantage compared to those that have it.

At the Lake County Board meeting at which video gaming was OK’d, Rob Hardman, co-owner of Blarney Island on Grass Lake Road west of Antioch said the following: “I understand why people are opposed to it. The problem is (video gaming) is in Lake County — it’s very much in Lake County.”

Hardman told the board that businesses like his “are at a distinct disadvantage” when compared to taverns in nearby municipalities like Antioch, which allowed video gaming in 2012.

Bob Clark of Clark’s Lounge in Beach Park, made that exact point when he spoke before the Villae Board in Beach Park last week.

Updated: March 18, 2014 6:21AM

In a surprise move, and after giving a 30-minute speech, Beach Park Mayor John Hucker broke a tie and voted in favor of video gaming, displaying strong support for village businesses last Thursday night.

The move reverses a 2009 village ban on video gambling in taverns and other 21-and-over establishments that serve liquor.

“That was a close one,” said Bob Clark, business partner with his daughter Cari Clark who owns Clark’s Lounge on Sheridan Road. He said he became initially worried when Trustee Regina Miller, who previously appeared in favor of the move, reconsidered and voted against it, citing concerns about unscrupulous, unlicensed gaming-machine brokers.

Miller joined fellow board members Mark Ottersen and Larry Wells, who voted “no,” each for various reasons. Supporting video gaming were trustees Linda Sittig, Don Jensen and Richard Gust. The 3-3 tie then was broken by the mayor’s vote.

“I was shocked by the mayor’s vote. He went on so long (about concerns he had), we really didn’t expect him to vote in favor of it,” said Clark.

For several months, local tavern owners had pleaded with the village to repeal the ban. They cited loss of revenue due to neighboring towns’ allowance of video gaming.

With video gaming approved, Beach Park stands to gain 5 percent from games played — $20,000 per year and more — while tavern owners get 35 percent. Another 35 percent goes to the company who leases or sells the machines, and the state gets another 25 percent.

“This will be a huge boost for us, because our business has been way down,” said Clark. “It’s anyone’s guess how much we’ll bring in, but we are anticipating about $5,000 a month.”

According to Clark, Waukegan taverns with video gaming “are bringing in $9,000 or $10,000 a month; some even $24,000 a month,” he said.

Beach Park officials said there are some costs, albeit minimal, including additional work placed on code-enforcement officers.

The approved ordinance includes a temporary ban on outside signage until the village can make a determination later this year.

The decision for Mayor Hucker was not an easy one, and he explained he is in no way in favor of video gaming. “I personally wish the state had never opened this door. I don’t think it’s healthy for us,” he said.

Miller, an earlier supporter of video gaming for the village but who voted against it last week, explained why she amended her position.

“I was originally supportive of video gaming, until I learned that a panel of state lawmakers recently overrode Illinois Gaming Board regulations prohibiting unlicensed middlemen from selling contracts to bar owners,” she said. “This loophole in the vetting of all individuals involved in the gaming business is a serious concern for me and the reason for my voting against the ordinance.

“I sincerely hope that our local businesses are selective when they deal with gaming companies and require proof of appropriate licensing before signing a contract,” she added.

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