Bloomington will keep its moratorium on video gambling until after state legislators have made key decisions about sports betting and marijuana.
Aldermen on Monday voted 5-4 to extend the ban on new video gaming terminals to Sept. 1, past the staff-recommended date of April 9.
Alderman Kim Bray offered Sept. 1 for the moratorium’s expiration date because it falls after the end of the next legislative session in Springfield. Lawmakers are expected to introduce bills to legalize recreational marijuana and sports betting.
Bray said she wanted to give the city time to consider the “community impacts” such legislation could have.
“It’s my understanding that the cannabis bill that will be put forth in Springfield will have an opt-out provision for municipalities,” she explained. “However, should a municipality choose to opt out, they would also opt out of some of the statewide revenues that are generated. So that will be a big question for our group, our community, to take on.”
Alderman David Sage expanded on Bray’s concerns.
“What does this do to the nature of the city?" he asked. "If you have legalized pot, if you have legalized gambling, in addition to video gaming, how does that change the character, the essence, the quality of life here. That seems worthy of some additional study and reflection to me.”
The council put a year-long moratorium in place last February to give staff time to explore the impact of video gambling within the city and what, if any, regulations the city should place on the practice.
But others on the council Monday night worried about the impact of the moratorium itself on the city.
“I see businesses left in limbo and that makes me uncomfortable,” said Alderman Karen Schmidt. City Clerk Leslie Yocum said since enacting the moratorium the city has heard from a few businesses wanting to add video gambling.
Alderman Diana Hauman said she’s uneasy about leaving the issue to a new council.
“We’ve been living with it for two years at least,” she said. “To lose the institutional knowledge we know we’re going to lose with three of us going off council at the end of April, I think we should keep to the April 9 date.”
Aldermen Scott Black and Amelia Buragas joined them in voting against the Sept. 1 extension.
The city could also enact a new annual $500 per-terminal video gambling fee. That’s one of the proposals council members will consider March 25 to increase revenues as part of the FY2020 budget process.
The council will also consider increasing the motor fuel tax from $0.04 to $0.08, resulting in an additional revenues for asphalt and concrete work.
Future of O'Neil Pool
With around 250 existing terminals, a new video gambling fee would mean an additional $125,000 of annual revenue for the city, Gleason said. While the revenue from video gambling is currently unrestricted, Gleason said the fee could support the city’s new economic development activities, or be invested in the city’s downtown.
Still, “it’s not going to build an aquatics park,” Gleason said, referring to proposed improvements at O’Neil Pool, one of several unfunded capital improvement projects in the city. That would take somewhere between $10 million and $12 million, he said.
While the city can’t afford to do that right now, it will invest between $35,000 and $50,000 to get the pool ready to open for the 2019 season.
Gleason said it looks like the state will grant the city permission to open the pool this summer, although staff are still waiting on official confirmation.
Gleason said the money will only pay for the bare minimum repairs to get the pool through the upcoming season. As for long-term improvements, “The current number from the architect and the designer is somewhere in the $6 million to $6.5 million range,” he said. That would include improvements to just the pool and the parking lot, without addressing the surrounding O’Neil Park.
Focusing on improving just the pool could bring the price tag down even further. Gleason said staff will continue exploring ways to make the project feasible throughout the budget process.
Staff will present additional information on all three items at the next committee of the whole March 11.
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