Columbia talks gambling, chickens

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The Columbia City Council’s main item of business Monday night was clarifying guidelines relating to video gambling in the city.

Monday’s meeting began with a public comment from C.J. Schlemmer, owner of the property at 208 N. Main Street that houses Ace’s Wild, one of two “gaming parlors” that were assumed to have been grandfathered in when the city council voted on video gambling regulations in early 2018, the other being Pair of Dice at 105 W. Kunz Street.

The comments preceded discussion of video gambling in Columbia. There has been confusion regarding the number of licenses for gaming in the city as well as the nature of businesses that can house video gambling machines.  

Schlemmer asked if the liquor license for a new establishment, Slots of Fun, which had a license issued in July and will be in part of the building formerly occupied by Bully’s Smokehouse, 1280 Columbia Center, would be reviewed for accounting records to prove it would not receive more than 50 percent of its revenue from video gambling.

When the agenda item was discussed regarding video gambling machines within city limits, Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey offered some clarity.

“There isn’t much regulation outside of the (city) liquor code,” Dunakey advised. “In summary, all (city code) does is make gambling and gambling devices illegal” unless operated in conjunction with state regulations.

Dunakey also explained the video gambling code is written as a “passive” enforcement and disclosure of accounting records from a business is at the “discretion of the mayor.”

Ward II Alderman Mark Roessler asked Dunakey about language drafted by former city administrator Jimmy Morani, who preceded Dunakey’s tenure with the city, regarding a “grandfather clause” about gaming parlors.

Dunakey explained the section that previously passed regarding limits on revenue from video gambling had subsequently been amended and no longer had any bearing on businesses featuring video gambling. Rather, liquor licenses are now divided into classes based on percentage of income derived from liquor sales only and not gaming sources.

“What is our vested interest in maintaining that (video gambling revenue) cap if we are not enforcing it and it is providing a direct revenue stream for our parks and recreation?” Dunakey asked, adding the city had received no complaints about existing businesses from use of video gambling machines.

The discussion concluded with Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson saying the city “hasn’t seen a problem with” video gambling, asking if anyone on the council would like to change the way the city handles the ordinances.

Most aldermen agreed with Hutchinson, with Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz lauding money generated for city parks and Ward II Alderman Kevin Martens asking how the city would benefit from changing a system that seems to be working.

Dunakey suggested it would be easy to draft language for video gambling in “plain English” rather than have a “circular reference” through the city’s liquor code.

The matter will be revisited during a future meeting.

Dunakey was also busy Oct. 12 at the Columbia Plan Commission meeting during a work session to clarify language for possible allowance of residential chickens within city limits.

Dunakey gave an overview of suggested ordinance amendments derived from several local municipalities that allow “backyard chickens.” 

The main points were that no roosters or crowing hens would be allowed and that certain sanitary and housing regulations would need to be established.

After discussion, it was determined Dunakey would bring potential language before the city council to see if they saw any “fatal flaws” prior to drafting official language for recommended approval from the commission.

Dunakey said there were virtually no issues with allowing residential chickens as pets or as egg producers in any of the nearby areas he studied.

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