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Daily Journal
     September 24, 2021      #61-267 KDJ

Kankakee looks to apply brakes to gaming

By Lee Provost

KANKAKEE — The brakes are being applied when it comes to siting any more gaming cafes in Kankakee. 

By a 4-1 vote, the Kankakee City Council's Economic Development Committee instructed the city's legal department to draft an ordinance halting the siting of any additional video gaming locations for a period of six months as they plan a deep dive into what is appropriate when it comes to locating any future video gaming locations.

This moratorium would not include bars, restaurants or truck stops, but rather locations where the sole business plan is gambling.

Currently, the city has four such locations: Shelby's, 4 Meadowview Center; Station Street Gaming Cafe, 150 E. Station St.; Lacey's Place, 503 RiverStone Parkway; and the recently sited, but not yet in operation location at 1620 E. Maple St.

These gaming-only businesses are located in the city's 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th wards.

"It's money, but is it the right money?" Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis said this week. "Our standards are to have a community that will thrive and grow."

Will more gaming-exclusive locations help lead the city to that destination is a question many are beginning to ask.

"We are going to take a pause on gaming parlors. We have to answer what is that number that balances our best growth for our community," he said.

Alderman David Baron, D-2, who appeared to be leading the call for a moratorium among council members, noted the city's planning, economic development and mayor's office are fielding numerous requests on a weekly basis for more gaming.

"We need to pause," he said. "I'm not sold on gaming cafes as a viable thing for any community."

One thing is for certain: Video gambling appears to be a growth industry. Regardless of the economy, pandemic or any other factor, video gaming seems to weather the storm.

The city's budget this year projects for $540,000 to be collected through the city's gaming tax. That accounts for tax revenue from both gambling exclusive locations and gaming centers within other businesses.

In the last fiscal year, the city collected $444,169 and that money was reaped even though gaming machines were turned off for four months by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three operating gambling cafes in Kankakee have brought to the city's budget through the first four months of the current budget year $44,360. Shelby's alone has brought in $19,415 to the city coffers.

In all, there are 41 locations in Kankakee which have video gaming and a total of 223 machines.

These numbers would explain why companies have city hall phones ringing off the hook.

"I believe this can be described as a tax on the poor," Baron said. "I believe that's what this is."

He said the simple question is can Kankakee base economic development on gaming?

"Is that how you bring about economic investment?" Baron asked. "I can't ignore the problematic consequences. Is this what we want in the community? To what extent is the good and when does it become a problem?"

Baron acknowledged some may view game halls as "just another business."

"The time has come to pause," he said. "Let's take a hard look at the data. Before we keep granting permits, let's make sure they are a good thing."

The only Economic Development Committee member who voted against a moratorium was 1st Ward Alderwoman Cherry Malone-Marshall. She said a location in the 1st Ward could help with economic development there.

She said each ward should be allowed to have a gaming cafe.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of Kankakee's Economic & Community Development Agency, said a basic question is "are they truly economic development?"

"We don't want just gaming cafes. We want other businesses," she said.

At the same time, she noted, the city doesn't want to turn away investment either.

"We're just looking for some direction from the council," she said.

Brewer-Watson said many communities are struggling with this very same issue.

"What is reasonable?" she asked, adding that she hopes a market analysis can help provide the answer.

"My job is to present data so we can make the best decision," she said.

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