Gambling license fees should not be eliminated when city faces $900,000 deficit
As a result of a procedural issue that took place at its last meeting, the Decatur City Council will once again vote on whether to eliminate license fees for over 80 gambling establishments in Decatur. I am opposed to eliminating license fees for gambling establishments. The city faces a $900,000 general fund deficit in 2021 and there are significant funding needs in the areas of public safety, neighborhood revitalization and job creation initiatives.
Elimination of gambling license fees and 5 other issues are on the agenda for the first Decatur City Council meeting of 2021 that will take place on January 4 at 5:30 PM. Other items on the agenda include approving a $1.2 million grant agreement with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to provide support to small businesses impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic and authorizing an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for CDBG and HOME grant funds.
GAMBLING IN DECATUR IS A $125 MILLION INDUSTRY AND GROWING
Between March 2019-February 2020, $126.9 million was gambled and citizens lost $32.4 million at over 80 establishments. The gambling industry in Decatur also has exhibited significant growth. Compared to March 2018-February 2019, the number of gambling establishments, number of gambling machines, and gambling losses by all citizens combined have increased year-over-year. There is no reason to expect that the rapid growth of gambling in Decatur will slow in 2021 when conditions allow for reopening.
GAMBLING LICENSE FEES SHOULD BE USED TO REDUCE BUDGET DEFICIT
Given that the City Council passed a 2021 budget with a $900,000 general fund deficit, combined with the critical need for funds for public safety, neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and job growth, eliminating gambling license fees each establishment pays is not fiscally responsible. A more appropriate option available to the city council continues to be to leave the fee for a video gambling license at $500 per machine per year for the establishment and to increase the fee for owners of the machines from $0 to $500 per machine per year. With 485 gambling machines in Decatur as of February 2020, this would result in $242,500 in additional revenue annually. While claims have been made that the elimination of fees for gambling establishments is intended to help small, local businesses, among the beneficiaries of the elimination of the fees are regional companies in which gambling appears to be their primary revenue source.
THERE ARE BETTER OPTIONS FOR SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES THAN THE ELIMINATION OF GAMBLING LICENSE FEES
If the city council is committed to helping small businesses, why not use the ~$240,000 that we currently collect from gambling establishments, add a fee to machine owners to collect an additional $240,000, and then provide grants to small, local business that we are trying to assist? Instead, we are eliminating license fees to regional and national companies some of which make a significant portion of their profits from the gambling losses of Decatur residents.
Macon County has the highest per capita death rate, the highest per capita hospitalization rate, and highest per capita number of cases from COVID-19 of any other county in central Illinois with a mid-sized city (as determined on 12/31/20). A small subset of the establishments that may no longer have to pay a license fee have been found to have repeatedly violated COVID-19 safety guidelines as documented by the city or MCHD for many months including employees not wearing face coverings while serving customers.
Earlier in the pandemic, the city council voted to increase building permit fees. Thus, those that invest in their homes will pay the city more money for investing in where they live. There is little if any evidence that the gambling industry is a net benefit to the city and its citizens. There is also little if any evidence that the current fees or additional fees will have any measurable impact to the gambling industry. Since the city council voted to increase the per machine fee to $500 a couple of years ago, the number of gambling establishments, machines, and losses by citizens have all increased.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss this or any other issue with a city council member, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
Meetings take place at the Theater located on the second floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance. Citizens are encouraged to attend meetings and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of each city council meeting. In addition, citizens can provide comments regarding one regular agenda item per meeting for up to three minutes provided they notify the city in advance (and prior to the start of the meeting). You can request to speak on a particular agenda item at a council meeting by filling out an on-line form at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/advance-request-to-speak-at-council-meeting/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.