CARBONDALE — After a gambling expansion passed the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year, Carbondale city council moved Tuesday night to raise the ceiling for the number of gambling machines allowed in the city.
Previously, state law allowed for only five machines per license, but the gambling expansion passed this year upped this to six. This caused the council to examine the current 100-machine cap set in the city’s ordinance.
And like the state's last gambling expansion, in 2009, the massive new bill could bring trouble.
There are currently 22 licenses issued by the city with two pending applications, according to the council’s agenda. Were these licenses approved, it would exceed the current cap.
With a vote of 5 yeas, a motion carried to increase the cap to 180, which would allow room for several more licenses to be added to the current number. Mayor Mike Henry said he did not want to have to return to the issue for a while.
The item debated Tuesday was whether to eliminate the city’s machine cap entirely or just to simply raise it.
Councilman Adam Loos had to excuse himself from the discussion Tuesday. An attorney, Loos said another lawyer in his firm had represented a party possessing a gambling license which presented an ethical conflict.
During previous debate, Loos had been outspoken in his opposition to gambling in town. When the city set its 100-machine limit in 2016, Loos said he would set it lower if he could, with the number going down through the process of attrition — when an establishment lost a machine, it would not be open to another business owner.
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In 2016, Loos said he felt the city needed to be socially conscious of how it regulates gambling, noting that often those who step up to a video poker machine are those who can afford it the least.
Councilman Jessica Bradshaw said before Tuesday’s meeting that she had “heard from a lot of people and like a lot of people I’m tired of seeing the games everywhere.” She reiterated this point during Tuesday’s meeting.
Recently-elected Councilman Lee Fronabarger said he was not in favor of eliminating the cap entirely but increasing the number to 150. He said based on his math, if all 22 licensees maxed out their gambling machine limits it would put the number of machines in the city to 132, and adding the two applications to that would bring the number to 144. This would have left one license up for grabs.
However, Councilman Jeff Doherty said he thought the agenda item asked the wrong question.
“I don’t think this solves the issue,” he said. He said if the council is wanting to curtail video gambling in the city, he thinks there should be a limit on the number of establishments instead of a limit on the number of gambling terminals.
Doherty said he would like to return to discuss a further overhaul of the ordinance.
Councilman Tom Grant made the distinction during council discussion that the matter at hand was to change the cap for restaurants and bars, not for truck stops.