Gaming again put on hold

The Vandalia City Council’s plan on Tuesday to hold first readings of two requests for liquor licenses tied to gaming was killed before it even came up.
Instead of reading those requests, which are from businesses whose earlier requests were denied, the council voted to focus on the idea of limiting the number of gaming parlors in the city.
One of those requests is for a license being issued to Discount Tobacco, and the other is for the transfer of an existing license to Meyer Oil.
With the latter, Maranatha Cripe, owner of The Cork, stated in writing that she would consider closing The Cork “to open that license up for this business (Meyer Oil).”
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, when Mayor Rick Gottman asked whether anyone present, including aldermen, had any comments on items on the meeting agenda.
Alderman Ken Hubler responded, saying that he wanted to put the two requests on hold for now.
“A few meetings ago, we were discussing about an ordinance with the gambling facilities, and right now, I don’t like to do anything with these liquor licenses until we have the pleasure of reviewing this ordinance that we will put out,” Hubler said.
Alderman Andy Lester seconded Hubler’s motion for postponement, saying, “I think there were going to be some guidelines in that ordinance.”
Hubler and Lester were referring to the council’s discussion during its Nov. 21 meeting about following the lead of other communities, including Decatur, on limiting the number of gaming facilities.
Decatur’s ordinance limits gaming facilities at 20; Vandalia currently has 16 businesses with gaming machines.
After the motion for postponement was made, Alderman Dorothy Crawford asked, “How can we limit gaming licenses when it is not within our purview to grant them.
“The Illinois Gaming Act says we can prevent them or accept them – there’s nothing about limiting them; it’s all or nothing,” Crawford said.
Ryan Connor of Burnside, Johnston, Connor and Jensen, the city’s legal counsel, told Crawford, “Gaming in inherently tied to liquor, so the city has almost plenary authority over the issuance of liquor licenses within its boundaries.”
Connor said that one of the ways the city code works is that the city increases and decreases liquor license through an application process. “You review them individually,” he said.
“So, the proposition was something akin to the city of Decatur, which placed a limitation on the number of licenses issued.
“You do that now, except that right now you do it per license,” Connor said.
He told aldermen that he and Executive Assistant LaTisha Paslay have reviewed ordinance in towns that limit gaming, including Decatur and Alton.
“Whenever you guys begin to place ordinances in your code, you may change it in ways that may be unpredictable, and this may be one of those ways,” he said.
“Since you control the liquor licenses, you control the gaming,” Connor said. “There can be no gaming without liquor in Vandalia. So, those two things are tied together.”
Crawford asked whether the city can deny liquor licenses “because they want a gaming license.”
Connor said that the city is able to limit the number of liquor licenses because that of its nature. “This is one area you get to regulate very broadly.
“Alcohol is one of those areas you have almost plenary authority over,” he said.
“Should you just put a blanket limitation on the number of licenses issued? You can, as a matter of law, but what good does it do you in Vandalia, since you just vote on licenses individually,” Connor said.
“There are a lot of reasons you could limit pour licenses. If you put your reasoning there (in the code), it can be very difficult later for somebody to come back and said, ‘You did this for an improper purpose,’” he said.
“And, frankly, gaming is a legitmate check on alcohol,” Connor said. “You can decide the number of liquor licenses we want to give because we want to limit the number of gaming licenses in Vandalia. There’s nothing improper about that.”
Connor told aldermen that in creating an ordinance limiting gaming, he wants to look more broadly at the city code.
“When you start plugging things into the liquor code, I’m not sure what that’s going to do to it more broadly.
“I just don’t like plugging things in that I’m not 100 percent sure what they’re going to do.
“We can mirror Decatur’s code very easily – that’s not an issue. The question is, what does that do to the rest of (the code),” Connor said.
“It is something that you should consider broadly, because it’s a more-complicated question than can we slap this limitation on broadly,” he said.
“I have some questions that I would like to flush out with the whole code,” Connor said.
Prior to the vote on Hubler’s motion, Gottman appointed Crawford, Hubler and Russ Stunkel to a committee to study the issue and meet with Connor on the development of an ordinance.
Also prior to the vote, Randy Meyer of Meyer Oil told aldermen that his request is a transfer of a license, not creating a new license.
But, as aldermen questioned that, Connor explained that that would not be the case, because Cripe’s relinquishment of her license would drop the number of Class A licenses, and the council would have to vote on increasing the number.
Hubler’s motion passed in a 6-1 vote, with Crawford casting the dissenting vote. “I understand the need for clarity,” she said, “but these people deserve an answer at some point.”
Voting for the motion were Hubler, Jerry Swarm, Lester, Mike Hobler, B. John Clark and Joel Rebbe; Stunkel was not present for the meeting.

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