Legalized video gaming finally gets under way at Fox Valley locations
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 6:16PM
Employees Daniela Martorano (left) and AJ Aguiar (background) watch bartender Trich Hager and manager Keith Puralewski play for the first time on newly installed video gaming machines Tuesday as they demonstrate the new machiens at Moretti's Ristorante & Pizzeria in Lake in the Hills. Moretti's is one of the first places to have legal video gaming in the area - a program it took the state three years to get off the ground. October 16, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Area communities that have OK’d video gaming
Lake in the Hills
Unincorporated Kane County
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:43AM
Let the gaming begin. At last.
Video gambling finally has finally gone live in northern Fox Valley bars and restaurants, more than three years after Illinois lawmakers approved it as a way to help raise billions to help fix schools and roads.
As of Oct. 9, 65 establishments had been scheduled to have their terminals up and running, and that number was growing by the day.
Moretti’s along Randall Road in Lake in the Hills saw its five machines — the maximum allowed per establishment — light up Tuesday afternoon, making it one of the first spots in the area to offer this form of legalized gambling.
By 4:30 p.m. that day, manager Keith Puralewski said only one patron had played any of the games, which come with the names “Big Easy,” “Cats with Wheel of Gold,” “Illinois Pick’n’Play,” and “Quick Hit Platinum.”
The video gaming stations and the ATM-like device that pays out winning tickets in cash are set up along a wall close to the restaurant’s bar and are cordoned off so staff can keep an eye on adult players. Bets can range from a penny to $2, and winning pulls can pay out a maximum of $500 on any one pot.
The LITH Moretti’s is open some nights until 4 a.m., and Puralewski said games are set up so the state remotely shuts them off at closing time.
Parent company Ala Carte Entertainment is getting video gaming for Bartlett and Fox Lake Moretti’s locations, the only other two of the seven Moretti’s operating in towns where gaming has been approved. Ala Carte also operates Famous Freddie’s in Fox Lake and has applied to have the games there, too.
Ala Carte owner Freddie Hoffmann said, “There’s a demand for gaming, and the only way to tell if this will work is to try it. We’re optimistic and hope it helps business. These are challenging times for everybody.”
Hundreds of places
Another local businessman also glad to see the state’s program begin was Frank Gumma of Algonquin.
“Finally, the wheels are starting to turn,” he said.
Gumma runs Ideal Amusements, which has been located in East Dundee for seven years. Ideal Amusements operates all types of coin-operated amusement devices and ATM machines, and Gumma has set up a sister business, Ideal Gaming LLC, for video gambling.
Gumma is expecting to have his first machines running full speed in a week or so at Pleasant Street Pub in Garden Prairie, a small town west of Marengo. The pub had its machines delivered last Friday, Gumma said.
As of last week, the Illinois Gaming Board had licensed a total of 341 businesses and fraternal and veteran organizations — though not all had their terminals installed yet — and was processing applications from 127 fraternal organizations, 198 veterans’ groups, 66 truck stops and more than 2,200 establishments, gambling officials said.
“The IGB’s staff has done a tremendous job to investigate and conduct background checks to license hundreds of entities and individuals to bring this new industry to Illinois,” board Chairman Aaron Jaffe stated in a press release.
All sites, such as Moretti’s, and operators, such as Gumma, must undergo a background check. Places found to be operating gaming machines that pay out under the table are subject to felony charges and revocation of their liquor licenses.
Gumma said two of his clients already have been approved, and more than a half-dozen others are awaiting news if they will be granted licenses, too. Gumma also is working with several East Dundee establishments, including the owners of Rosie O’Hare’s, who recently filed their paperwork.
East Dundee’s village board recently reversed its position and, by a 4-3 vote, decided to allow the video gaming.
A 2010 advisory referendum had 239 voters against such gaming and 190 in favor. Gumma said a petition circulated this summer collected more than 650 signatures and asked the town to reconsider.
Village leaders noted a driving factor behind the move approving the video gaming was that East Dundee is hoping to recoup revenue it will lose when its Walmart eventually closes and relocates to Carpentersville.
Illinois lawmakers approved video gambling in 2009 to help fund a $31 billion construction program to fix schools, roads, bridges and other projects. Its implementation was delayed by a lawsuit filed by Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz who sued the state over higher taxes in the legislation to pay for the construction program. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional.
Along the way, there were errors in the contract bidding process, staffing shortages at the gaming board, and rules that had yet to be fully developed at the time the legislation passed.
Proponents claimed at the time the video gaming would raise about $375 million a year for the state. Those numbers have been called into question since not all municipalities are on board with the effort.
Gambling officials said 633 cities and counties have enacted ordinances to allow video gambling, and several had to reverse bans on video gambling to take advantage of the potential new revenue. Hundreds of communities still prohibit the practice. Opposition largely has come from church groups that question how much revenue the machines will bring and worry about the social cost.
In July, the Elgin City Council unanimously voted down allowing video gaming.
At the time, Councilwoman Tish Powell said, “It would be different if we didn’t already have a casino in our borders. For towns without a casino, this might make more sense. Elgin is not Las Vegas.”
Perhaps some other riverboat towns, at the very least, think of themselves as Reno. Aurora and Joliet both have opted in on the video gaming.
Owners of the recently closed Douglas Street Sports Bar in downtown Elgin cited the city’s failure to allow video gaming as one of the reasons it closed. Gumma said other Elgin bar owners would be meeting soon to discuss if they will continue to lobby for video gaming.
East of Elgin, patrons at The Assembly American Bar & Cafe in Hoffman Estates have been able to play on its five machines for more than two weeks now because the eatery was a test site, as the state worked out any kinks with the system, owner Gary Taylor said.
He said the machines have been popular at the eatery known for its hamburgers, but he doubts they will bring in as much revenue as terminal operators and the state have projected. The state will get 25 percent and local municipalities 5 percent of net income after winnings are paid. The other 70 percent is split by the business owners and the companies that operate the machines.
“A lot of the people we’ve seen are playing penny or nickel slots. We don’t see it as any huge income, but it’s great entertainment for guests before or after meals,” Taylor said.
State gambling officials have estimated that up to 75,000 machines could be installed statewide within a year.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.