BELLEVILLE — More than 150 people crowded into Belleville City Hall on Tuesday to talk about allowing video gambling machines in Belleville.
City officials said 48 people spoke and about twice as many people spoke against the idea to those favoring it.
The crowd filled the regular chamber seating as well as chairs placed against the back wall and behind council members' seating.
Another group of people watched the proceedings via a closed circuit television broadcast in the City Hall lobby.
Some speakers argued for prohibiting the machines, calling up images of extra crime and gambling addiction, while some business owners asked for the chance to get the extra revenue the machines could bring.
Quite a few people asked that the issue be put on a ballot to let residents decide.
Larry Moore even called up the ghost of Andy Griffith, who once warned Opie not to be taken in by a fishing lure salesmen with his shiny wares and to remember there always was a hook in there somewhere.
At the beginning of the meeting that took almost two hours, Mayor Mark Eckert asked commentors to be brief and civil. He told the crowd afterward he was pleased with the results.
"The tentative plan is to send this back to the Ordinance Committee next week with the comments from the crowd," he said.
The city's Ordinance Committee will consider the issue at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers.
Most of the commentors were Belleville residents. Lois Wilson was the first person to speak and she said she had mixed feelings.
"I'm really not fond of the idea," she said. "But I think it should be up to we the people on the ballot as an election."
In a statement he released Monday, Eckert said the video gaming could bring in $300,000 as Belleville's cut and the money could be used to put four new police officers on the street at the start of next year.
David Anderson said the machines would hurt families.
"Is it good to encourage people who have been drinking to gamble?" he asked. "This is not good policy."
Ed Metzger wondered whether the machines might simply take some of the money people would use for other things for gambling.
"There is a finite amount of money in the community," he said. "Gambling is going to help drain that pool."
"It's a social problem and shouldn't be in Belleville," said George Uhl.
Roger Wigginton urged council members to consider the ramifications for the future. He said the limit might be five machines per business now, but there was nothing to prevent an expansion.
Patty Gregory read a copy of the city's mission statement and said that gambling doesn't fit into that mission. Kathleen Kaiser worried that all the hard work by many people to burnish the image of Belleville would be wasted by the bad image provided by video gambling machines.
Scott Tyler proposed that instead of just collecting the 5 percent share it could, the city also impose an establishment fee of $1,000 per business for an estimated 100 businesses and increase its share of the revenue by 33 percent.
"I know we need the money but I'm afraid there will be a lot of pain further down the road. Let the citizens decide," said Mary McCue.
But many business owners asked that the machines be allowed and then the public can judge for itself how the situation works. If bad things happened, the city could always opt out later.
Lonnie Casey, owner of the Night Moves bar in east Belleville, said people who don't want to be associated with the machines don't have to come in his business
"Nobody forces you to play it," he said. "People who oppose this never come into my place. Not even for the 25 cent wings."
Scott Schmelzel, one of the owners of downtown's Big Daddy's 618 bar, said gambling is a part of the culture, just like drinking alcohol. He said now that the state has the law permitting the machines, putting off local machines is just delaying the inevitable.
"We simply need the revenue," he said. "It's safe. It's protected. Let's not delay this and let someone else get the money."
Crehan's Irish Pub owner Barry Gregory, who worked with other business owners to get the legislation, said video gaming is about getting people back to work and creating jobs.
"It's more regulated than the lottery," he said.
"We're not going to rush the process," Eckert told the crowd at the end of the meeting. Now that it is legal, a lot of business owners have come forward. I know they are suffering. I hear them when they way they want to have a choice.
"I hear you when you talk about addiction and such. Let's don't get caught up in fear. There were a lot of good points being made by all sides tonight."
Contact reporter Wally Spiers at email@example.com or 239-2506.