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South Elgin bar hopes gaming picks up profits

Bartender Kimmy DeMeo shows how she would react if she was she demonstrates playing video gaming machine Wednesday Booker's Bar

Bartender Kimmy DeMeo shows how she would react if she won as she demonstrates playing on a video gaming machine Wednesday at Booker's Bar & Grill in South Elgin. November 21, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:08AM

SOUTH ELGIN — Business at Booker’s Bar & Grill has been down since school went back into session this fall, said Ann Castle, owner of the bar.

She hopes that the recent addition of video gaming there will help draw in more patrons and help it recoup some of those late-year losses, Castle said.

The five video gaming machines at Booker’s — the maximum allowed by state law — are the first in South Elgin since Illinois lawmakers approved video gambling in 2009 and subsequent delays to the gambling program’s kickoff that took place just over a month ago.

Other area towns with video gaming now allowed in bars, fraternal organizations and truck stops include Carpentersville, East Dundee, Gilberts, Hampshire, Hoffman Estates, Huntley, Lake in the Hills and Pingree Grove.

More places with the machines are expected in South Elgin, said Village Manager Larry Jones.

“We understand that there are some others that have applied (for permits), but don’t have a date yet from the state” as to when the application process will be complete, he said.

The Booker’s machines were turned on two weeks ago, Castle said.

It had applied for the state license back on May 1, and “getting the information together took awhile,” she said.

Her bar was approved on Aug. 15 by the state liquor commission, she added.

Each machine is loaded with 10 games “just like the machines at the (casino) boat. There is regular slot, video poker … a bunch of games,” Castle said. Bets range as well, she said.

In the first couple weeks, however, business was slow and the machines were not getting a lot of action, Castle said. She expects that to pick up once customers, and potential customers, learn the machines are available.

She’s hoping the additional business generated by the gaming terminals will help turn around a trend of slow business at the restaurant — a complaint she’s heard from other restaurant and bar owners, too.

“We were having an OK year until September, but it’s down 30 percent since the kids went back to school. Everyone is saying the same thing — it’s like 2008 all over again — and I’m not sure why,” she said, referring to the 2008 economic downturn across the country.

If the gaming terminals are successful, “we will have additional income and don’t have to do anything” to get that.

The machines are hard-wired via modem to the state. Profits are split, with the state getting 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.

“We don’t really touch any of the money,” Castle added.

If the machines are successful, Castle said she wants to pour that money back into the business — at least once she catches up on the slow months.

“Now, I just hope to be caught up on bills because business is so slow,” she said. “I hope we will need to hire new people; that is what we are hoping for.”

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