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Preckwinkle revamps video gambling tax proposal

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Al Podgorski/ Sun-Times Media

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Al Podgorski/ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:51PM



Rivers Casino in Des Plaines would feel a bigger bite under Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s newly revised gambling tax proposal.

Instead of the county charging an $800 annual tax on every slot machine in the county — from the 1,000-plus slots at Rivers, the only casino in the county, to video gambling machines springing up at smaller mom-and-pop shops — Preckwinkle is now calling for casino machines to be taxed at $1,000 apiece annually. The video slot machines turning up in smaller suburban businesses would be taxed at $200.

The proposal is part of her nearly $3 billion budget plan, and Preckwinkle has been working on lining up the minimum nine votes on the county board she needs to pass a series of fees and tax initiatives totaling $43 million.

Preckwinkle’s budget team had projected $1.3 million in revenues from the gambling tax, but that will fall by $100,000 to $1.2 million under the revised plan, and officials are looking elsewhere to make up the difference.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle said she listened to the concerns of commissioners and tweaked her proposal.

“Let me just say in my talks with commissioners they were universally concerned about the impact on the neighborhood bars and taverns in the communities that they represent. That’s very different from the casinos,” Preckwinkle said.

She has said research shows the $800 per machine represents one day’s revenue at the casino. And she believes that given the social toll gambling takes on society, it’s a “small price to pay.”

“We’ve looked at this in consideration of the daily revenues of machines and the impact that they have on public safety in Cook County. We planned to tax them a little more than one day’s revenue. It’s a small price to pay to help with the impact on crime, health and addiction,” she said.

Two-thirds of the county’s budget pays for the public health and hospital system as well as the local criminal justice system.

Commissioner Deborah Sims, also at Tuesday’s press conference, said the revised plan something that commissioners, neighborhood establishments and even the gaming lobby could agree to.

The president and several commissioners came up with “a dollar amount that was comfortable for the mom-and-pops and it was comfortable, I guess, for the gaming people as well,” Sims said.

The machine owners would be responsible for paying the tax.

“We know we have to do this — there isn’t a lot of places for Cook County to go after revenue, and we’re looking at all places we can get it and this just happens to be one of them,” Sims said.

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Rivers Casino, gave the plan a thumbs down.

“We are opposed to the tax and to the two-tiered approach, which seems destined to drive gaming to the neighborhoods,” he said.

While that could hurt business, observers question, too, whether it’s wise to expand gaming in the neighborhoods, where it’s hard for authorities to keep an eye on them.

Chicago has a ban in place on video gaming, and elected leaders have pushed to limit video gaming in some suburbs.

Zack Stamp, a lobbyist for the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, has questioned whether Preckwinkle’s measure is legal but said the organization is still parsing the proposal and will weigh in on it down the line.



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