BELLEVILLE, IL. (KTVI) – The video gambling machines that sent a notorious Belleville area crime figure to prison in the 90’s could soon be “legal” in Belleville. The debate drew a huge crowd to Belleville City Hall, Tuesday night. If video gaming is approved, the City of Belleville would get a 5% share of the money from the bars and other participating businesses.
Mayor Mark Eckert said it could mean $300,000 or more for the city; enough to hire at least four more police officers.
Opponents pointed out gamblers would have to lose millions for the city to cash in.
‘I think it`s great. Let them do it,’ said Bill Collins, a patron at Friday`s South, a bar down the street from City Hall. ‘Give it to the small guys. Let people have some fun. Instead of going to the boat all the time, let them do it here.
‘Where` s the downside?’ said his brother, Jim, pointing out that the bar owners who overwhelmingly support legalization, would hardly take that stance against their own best interest.
Still, the downside seemed to opponents at a close to 2 hour public hearing before the Belleville City Council.
‘I`m not chicken to say I`m opposed to allowing gaming in Belleville,’ one resident told the council.
About 150 people packed the city council chambers. Dozens more had to watch on TV in an overflow area nearby.
‘This will hurt local businesses. It won`t help them. It won`t help families,’ another resident told the council.
But those business owners supported it; all on board from the neighborhood tavern to the landmark Fischer`s restaurant.
‘We`re all for it. We are SO for it!’ Annette Fischer said.
‘Smithton, Freeburg, Fairview Heights, Shiloh, St. Clair County have all legalized it,’ said John Brisk, owner of Cutter`s and Tim & Joe`s. (Customers) don`t come to our place if we don`t have it, they`re going to go there.’
‘What`s the difference? These people will not be in my bar, that`s opposing us. I guarantee you that,’ said Lonnie Casey, owner of Night Moves.
‘It`s an entertaining feature that is truly an elegant system to watch and enjoy,’ said David Talignani, a video gaming technician for area casinos. ‘It`s better than doing a Lotto scratch off when you buy it at the liquor store.’
Opponents point to history in Belleville and beyond. Notorious racketeer, Tom Venezia, was convicted in 1995 and went to federal prison for running an illegal video gambling ring at taverns in and around Belleville.
He died in an apparent murder-suicide in Belleville after his release in 2005. Police said he shot and killed Jennifer Anderson, 21, who was living with him, then turned the gun on himself.
Anderson`s mother spoke against legalization at the public hearing.
‘I think it should be up to `we the people`, it should be on the ballot,’ another resident said.
‘They claimed riverboat gambling would fill East St. Louis City`s and schools` coffers, but they`ve only contributed to corruption. They claimed allowing for adult entertainment promotes jobs in Washington Park but it has only led to ruined lives. We don`t need gambling in Belleville. We don`t want gambling in Belleville,’ resident Alex Enyard said.
After the meeting, Mayor Eckert said he wasn’t 100% ‘for’ or ‘against’ video gambling. The council`s ordinance committee will meet next week to decide whether to send a proposal to the city council or perhaps put the issue up for a vote of the people on the November ballot.