St. Francis to revisit gambling ordinance amendment

by Karin Craig
For the Union

The St. Francis City Council will be revisiting an ordinance amendment that would require charitable gambling groups to use 100 percent of their profits in the city’s trade area and to pay 10 percent of their net gambling profits to the city.

In a letter to the council dated Sept. 12, the St. Francis American Legion claimed that the 10 percent requirement in the ordinance amendment, which was adopted Sept. 4, would have a detrimental impact on its charitable gambling operations and would even threaten the survival of the post.

In addition, the amendment would prohibit the Legion from helping some of its very own members, as well as veterans and their families living outside of the city’s trade area, which is defined as the city of St. Francis and the cities and townships contiguous to St. Francis.

Mayor Jerry Tveit said he has struggled with the ordinance amendment and its potential impact on the American Legion post.

The Legion is not a St. Francis-only charitable organization; many of its members are from surrounding areas, he said.

Since Tveit is himself a member of the Legion, he said he will abstain from the decision of whether to continue toward with the amendment and leave it up to the rest of the council.

According to Councilmember Tim Brown, when the council adopted the ordinance amendment, it was mainly intended to prevent money taken in by outside gambling organizations from leaving the city.

He hadn’t foreseen the potential impact on the St. Francis American Legion, Brown said.

Councilmember Jeff Sandoval urged the council to consider revising the ordinance amendment rather than simply allowing a one-time variance for the Legion, which would “open a can of worms.”

Gambling is very highly regulated, said City Administrator Matt Hylen, and he too cautioned the city against simply giving a variance or exception for one charitable gambling group.

Sandoval said that there are other issues in the ordinance that could be problematic, such as a requirement that those conducting charitable gambling must own the building in which their operation runs.

“Most of the people running bingo in this town do not own their own building… We need to look at this issue again and get our ducks in a row so we don’t hinder new businesses from coming in,” he said.

Councilmembers agreed that parts of the ordinance amendment are restrictive and that the issue must be researched further.

“We need to look at it and reword it,” said Sandoval.

The council directed city staff to research possible options for the ordinance amendment, with the goal of having a new recommendation for the council at its Oct. 1 meeting.