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Morton Times-News - Morton, IL
  • Video gaming takes hold in Tri-County area

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  • Central Illinois residents who want to take a chance with lady luck now have more than just the traditional casino options.
     
    Several business owners across the area are putting in video gaming machines while others are waiting to be licensed.
     
    “The hope is that it would increase business with people coming in to play it,” Rich Gabbert, the owner of Meadows Avenue Tap of East Peoria, said.
     
    Meadows Avenue Tap has had the machines since Nov. 20, and Gabbert said he has noticed an increase in business.
     
    Video gambling machines were approved by the Illinois General Assembly in May 2009 for truck stops, fraternal organizations and establishments that hold liquor licenses.
     
    The machines, however, did not go online until October 2012 so that the state could make sure the central system that tracks the machines was working properly.
     
    “The reaction has been very positive,” Gabbert said. “Obviously, the people that win are loving it, and the people that haven’t won don’t think it’s so special.
     
    “It’s neat to have the same style machine as the casinos and the gambling boats.”
     
    While business owners may be excited about the influx in revenue, one central Illinois town took measures to stop video gambling before it took off.
     
    “(The village board of Morton) opened it up to discussion, and they heard from a great number of residents that were against it,” Wendy Ferrill, the city comptroller said. “From what I remember, people felt like they didn’t want this for the town. They wanted it to be a family first atmosphere.”
     
    Morton banned video gaming Dec. 21, 2009.
     
    “This was after hearing from a great number of residents that were against it,” Ferrill said. “The board heard both sides, including businesses in town and the liquor establishments. They also heard from some people that had gambling problems that felt like having these in town wouldn’t be a good thing. I think for those reasons, the board decided 5-0 they didn’t want it.
     
    “It hasn’t been brought up again, so it’s kind of been a quiet issue. Most of the board is the same as then so I don’t see them changing it. I haven’t heard anything else on it.”
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    In Washington, the mayor and aldermen are re-drafting the city’s ordinance regulating video gaming after it received a flood of liquor license applications.
     
    The council approved a temporary moratorium in December on issuing any licenses until the new ordinance can be approved.
     
    Currently, the council is considering limiting gaming licenses only to businesses that hold Class A and E liquor licenses. Class A holders are taverns and restaurants that serve all types of alcohol for consumption on the premise and Class E are licenses for fraternal organizations.
     
    The ordinance may also put restrictions on when a business with a liquor license and video gaming can open.
     
    Washington city officials will likely have a new ordinance in place in the coming weeks.
     
    For towns that do not have ordinances against video gambling, the money raised by the machines goes to a variety of places.
     
    “I get 35 percent of the profit of the machine,” Gabbert said. “The amusement company gets 35 percent of the profit and then the state gets 25.”
     
    The remaining 5 percent goes to the local municipality.
     
    After someone wins at the machine, they are given a voucher which they can then put in the redemption machine at the bar to cash out.
     
    “The amusement company comes in and clears out the money,” Gabbert said. “All the figures are transmitted electronically to the company that manages the system for the state. They get all the numbers and turn it over to the gaming company so they know who gets what cut of the money.”
     
    While Gabbert said he cannot see someone cash out millions of dollars on the games, they can win a nice chunk of change for their money.
     
    “It’s a misconception that the most you can win is $500,” Gabbert said. “The most you can win at one time is $500 but I’ve seen people win over $1,000 because they get bonus spins after that $500. You can win $500 on one spin and keep winning on your bonus spins. The most I’ve seen someone win is $1,100.”
     
    The Fifth Quarter, a restaurant in East Peoria, has had three poker and slot combination machines since mid-December.
     
    “It’s a no-lose situation for us,” Ray Koeppel, co-owner of the Fifth Quarter said. “It’s all operated by the state. There is no installation fee, repair cost or anything you have to buy for them.
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    “The only thing you have to buy is a license from the state for a nominal fee.”
     
    The machines, which someone has to be 21 to play, are played for a penny, nickel, quarter or dollar, but the max bet is $2.
     
    “They are multi-games,” Gabbert said. “What that means is that some have a reel like a slot machine and some have poker, five card stud, wild and so on. It really just depends on what someone wants to play.”
     
    For those still in the application process, getting the license can take a while.
     
    “We started with the process around July,” Shawna Colwell, co-owner of the Chilli Bowl in Chillicothe, said. “It is an application that you have to fill out online that is around eight different pages and is super technical. We had to go and get our fingerprints done in Springfield too for them to have on file.
     
    “Then we had to submit the application and we didn’t hear anything until around six or seven weeks ago and that was to tell us we had to resubmit everything since something on the form was not capitalized like it should have been.”
     
    After resubmitting, the Chilli Bowl was then checked out by an expert.
     
    “Then an inspector came in and took pictures of the place and asked questions about the location and different background stuff,” Colwell said. “We had to change the location of where we wanted to put it because they are very clear that the bartender or staff has to be able to see the machine at all times so no one under 21 can play it without someone seeing.”
     
    After all the work put in, Colwell and the Chilli Bowl are still waiting.
     
    “We are still on the pending list and hope to hear back this month,” Colwell said. “The board that approves places only meets once a month and we hope that we will get approved this month. Once that takes place, I have heard that it can still take several weeks or a month until you are up and running.”

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