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Bloomington opens the door for a few more video gambling licenses. Some want to remove the cap entirely

Sheila Montney and Donna Boelen
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Sheila Montney, right, who represents Ward 3 on the city’s east side, voted against a plan to allow more video gambling licenses if they're tied to a development or annexation agreement. She said he’s opposed to any expansion of video gambling, citing negative societal impact.

The Bloomington City Council this week chipped away at the cap on video gambling licenses in the city—and at least one council member wants to go even further.

The council voted this week formally allow new video gambling licenses—beyond the 60-license cap now in place—if they’re tied to a development or annexation agreement. City Manager Tim Gleason said that’s not expected to happen often. He said examples might be a truck stop on the outskirts of town or a downtown hotel project, where a developer seeks a video gambling license.

“They’d have to rise to the level where the good far outweighs the negative,” Gleason said on Sound Ideas. “Staff now has the ability to have this conversation with a developer, and it’s something that won’t conflict with the 60 video gaming license cap that council reaffirmed (Monday).”

The vote was 7-to-2. Sheila Montney, who represents Ward 3 on the city’s east side, voted against it. She said he’s opposed to any expansion of video gambling, citing negative societal impact.

Monday’s vote essentially removes the cap, for all intents and purposes, even if the council has the opportunity to reject the underlying development or annexation agreement, Montney said.

“We have an alternative backdoor way to get approval for players that come in as part of larger-scale development,” Montney said.

Council member Jamie Mathy, who represents Ward 1, said he regrets supporting the 60-license cap when it was enacted in 2019. He said it’s caused more problems than it’s solved.

“What we did by putting a cap in place is we created haves and haves not within our establishments in town,” Mathy said Monday. “Businesses that have gambling licenses have a completely different valuation when they go to sell than businesses that don’t.”

 Jamie Mathy
Bloomington City Council member Jamie Mathy.

Mathy said he plans to bring a proposal to the council that would remove the cap.

Speaking this week on Sound Ideas, Gleason was asked whether the cap has put certain types of businesses at a disadvantage.

“To be quite honest, this is one of those situations where some could argue that this is unfair. But it rises to a level that the greater good outweighs the negative and the unfairness,” Gleason said.

He added: “It’s one of these tough decisions that the elected officials have to face.”

The council on Monday also voted to tighten rules on the transfer of video gambling licenses.

That was prompted, Gleason said, after two applicants on the license wait list “essentially bought out an existing entity” that had one. That was never the intent, he said.

License holders will still be allowed to move locations, or sell their entire business, said city attorney Jeff Jurgens. The new language reads: “The transfer of video gaming licenses is prohibited except that a video gaming license may be transferred from a current licensee to a proposed licensee if the license is for the same establishment and location.”

“This is to avoid an intentional black market, making a video gaming license a commodity within the community,” said Jurgens.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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