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Video gambling license fees temporarily halved under COVID-19 relief bundle approved by Cook County Board
Thursday, February 25, 2021 Chicago Tribune by Alice Yin
Video gambling license and terminal fees located in unincorporated areas of the county temporarily would be cut in half as part of a coronavirus relief package for businesses the Cook County Board approved Thursday.
For the rest of the year, applications for video gambling licenses will cost $250 instead of $500, while the per terminal fee that operators pay will drop from $1,000 each to $500. The fee reductions would cost the county about $74,500, officials said.
They were among other pandemic relief efforts commissioners approved, including a drop in liquor license fees and vehicle wheel taxes.
“There are particular parts of our economy that have been tremendously impacted by the closures and the requirements for physical distancing, and surely bars and restaurants are high on that list,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said to reporters after the meeting, noting that many gambling machines are in such venues.
Current liquor licenses in unincorporated Cook County will be extended by two months until June 30, while beer garden licenses will last until the end of the year. After that, fees for licenses issued for the 2021 to 2022 period will be slashed from $3,000 to $2,000 for retail liquor and $750 to $300 for beer gardens. The loss for the county will be around $79,500, officials said.
The Cook County wheel tax for vehicles will go down to $60 for commercial trailers, which is the rate for recreational trucks. That will continue beyond the pandemic and cost the county about $57,000 each year. Just for the 2020 to 2021 period, licenses for vehicles registered under the wheel tax ordinance will be extended two months until Aug. 31.
Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, voted for the package but said the video gambling measure should have been backed by more evidence of revenue losses.
“I’m just surprised we’re helping them out as much,” Gainer said. “If we’re going to be giving people a tax subsidy, just like we do tax incentives, it should be based on actual loss as opposed to assumption of loss. And so as we think about this going forward based on how long the recovery is, that would be helpful.”
Zahra Ali, director of the county’s Department of Revenue, said there were no revenue receipts for the 20 or so businesses in unincorporated Cook County with video poker machines.
But Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki said in general the gambling industry has sustained heavy revenue losses from statewide mandates to shut down. That impacts the state tax that the county benefits from under the gambling act, Rizki said.
Commissioners on Thursday also unanimously approved without opposition a new rental and utility assistance program made possible by $72.8 million in federal grant funds and run by the county’s Bureau of Economic Development. The approval came after the U.S. Treasury Department allocated $25 billion to local governments for households suffering economic hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic in January.
That $72.8 million will go to suburban households unable to pay rent and utilities because of the pandemic-induced recession, on top of operational and marketing costs. While details on the program are forthcoming, Rizki told reporters he expects payments will go out as early as mid-March.
In August, Cook County ran a $20 million rental assistance program, but Preckwinkle said at the time a slow-moving Congress must advance a second stimulus package. That was on top of a slew of other COVID-19 relief efforts such as mortgage relief, direct cash payments and a free internet program for public housing residents.
Commissioners on Thursday also approved a partnership that will allow for all Cook County residents to get free student loan debt advice.
Those interested can sign up at www.meetsummer.org/il for advisory services from the Summer corporation, which offers recommendations on how to save money in loan payments and enrolling in assistance or forgiveness programs. The opportunity is open to any Cook County resident with student loan debt, whether the individual graduated or not.
The free service was made possible by the Joyce Foundation, which is funding the partnership between the county and Summer.
On average, 61% of Illinois college students graduate with loans, with an average $29,666 debt size, according to College Insight. Illinoisans enrolled with Summer have saved an average $154 per month, according to the company. Borrowers have used the tool to find eligibility for plans to allow them to reduce their payments to as low as $0 should they have lost income.
Alice Yin is a reporter for the Tribune‘s metro desk, responsible for covering the ins and outs of Cook County government and the Obama Presidential Center. She is a Medill School of Journalism graduate and was a statehouse reporter for the Associated Press in Michigan before moving back to Chicago for a stint at the Sun-Times.