Chicago religious leaders want to stop video poker

February 23, 2010 3:16:14 PM PST
Some religious leaders in Chicago are calling for a hold on plans to legalize video poker in bars and restaurants in the city. They say the public should be able to weigh in on the issue. Supporters say the state desperately needs the revenue video poker would bring.

While it's part of the state's capital plan, video poker "coming to a bar near you" is still many months away. The rules and regulations are being developed, the machinery's far from ready, and many believe it won't happen unless and until the Chicago City Council votes to allow it.

Influential members of the Chicago clergy say, before there is a vote, there ought to be a public hearing in every ward in the city, and if that happens, the message from this coalition of pastors will be pretty clear.

"This only works if people are losing -- by individuals losing and families losing, and there are no profits unless there are great losses," said Jane Ramsey, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

This group of Chicago religious leaders wants to put the brakes on video gaming, calling it an act borne of political cowardice. Tuesday, they asked the governor to call a moratorium on any roll-out of video poker until there are more opportunities for the public to weigh in.

"So now we say to Governor Quinn, you can act responsibly to correct the general assembly's mistake and act shrewdly to remove video gambling before it becomes a campaign issue," said Rev. Phil Blackwell, Chicago Temple.

The governor did have a public event Tuesday but left before taking any questions on video gaming. The state gaming board is moving ahead with plans to set up what could be thousands of video poker machines statewide, but that's easily a year away.

Proponents say money from video gaming is a critically important component of the state's capital plan, but close to 70 units of government have already voted to say they don't want video poker in taverns and fraternal halls.

The critical battlefront is the Chicago City Council. The city would have to vote affirmatively to allow video gaming, and some members of council say it's not being called because the votes aren't there.

"My colleagues are going to be very reluctant to vote for what in essence would be to allow dozens, if not hundreds, of mini casinos," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.

ABC 7 sought some thought on this issue Thursday from Alderman Pat O'Connor, the mayor's floor leader, and Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward takes up much of downtown Chicago, but both had a heavy meeting schedule.

Alderman Gene Schulter, who chairs the committee that will first hear the video poker ordinance, said in a written statement that he is "meeting with representatives from affected parties to gain a broader understanding of the ordinance." And he promises the public will be notified before his committee begins its discussions.