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Elgin takes step toward allowing video gaming

Hoppes Corner 1075 N. Liberty St. Elgin. The state’s Video Gaming Act will be topic discussinext week’s council meeting. June

Hoppes Corner, 1075 N. Liberty St. in Elgin. The state’s Video Gaming Act will be a topic of discussion at next week’s council meeting. June 7, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:36PM

ELGIN — After hearing Wednesday night and in recent weeks from the owners and operators of some local bars, restaurants and social clubs, the city council took a step to alter Elgin’s current stance disallowing video gaming.

By what seemed like unanimous consent, the city’s legal staff was directed late Wednesday night to come up with the necessary documentation to do so by its Feb. 27 meeting.

Mayor David Kaptain said his main condition for supporting such a move would be to keep any money the city would get from its cut of wagers go to a separate fund to aid social service agencies, particularly Renz Addiction Center.

A loose affiliation of establishments that might benefit from video gaming had been meeting in groups of seven to a dozen with each council member to plead their collective case.

Group spokesman Mike Flanagan told the council Wednesday that a study indicated the gaming would bring in more than $644,000 annually to the city of Elgin for its 5 percent cut of the money. He said not allowing the gaming gave unfair advantage to businesses in other towns that allow it.

A majority of the towns near Elgin do allow video gaming. Play has just begun at a handful of places, as the state’s approval process involves extensive background checks.

Opting in are Bartlett, Carpentersville, East Dundee, Gilberts, Hampshire, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Pingree Grove, South Elgin and unincorporated Kane County.

Algonquin, Campton Hills, St. Charles, Streamwood and Wayne have opted out of allowing video gaming. West Dundee is out for now but trustees are set to reconsider their position in February, and Sleepy Hollow is set to approve such a move next month, too.

The casino towns of Aurora and Joliet also allow video gaming. But Des Plaines, which has the state’s newest and busiest casino, does not allow video gaming at other establishments.

“Elgin is landlocked by other towns that allow this gaming. ... We didn’t know this in July,” Councilman John Prigge said.

In July the Elgin council, by the consensus of all members, decided to keep the city’s long-existing ban on such play in place, thus opting out of the state’s video gaming program.

But Prigge had asked to have the video gaming issue included as a topic of discussion on Wednesday’s agenda.

In July, Prigge said that anything that might harm the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin would be a bad thing and noted the casino had told the city that other video gaming in town would cut into its take. Councilwoman Tish Powell said at that time, “Elgin is not Las Vegas.”

Powell expressed her support Wednesday for the interested establishments based on her discussions with them.

“We do want you to be competitive,” she said.

Dozens of people from such establishments attended the meeting, as did some people who hoped the city would keep the ban in place.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Wednesday night, reiterating what others said, bar owner Jill Hoppe told the council, “You’ve honestly listened to us. Thanks to each and every one of you.”

While the council sessions started at the usual 6 p.m., with items including an hourlong discussion of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s financial situation and a 50-minute presentation and talk about Liberty Street traffic dragging out the agenda, those interested in the video gaming issue had to wait until 10:05 p.m. for the council to begin discussing the video gaming matter.

With the pieces all finally in place for getting the program off the ground, in late summer Illinois began enactment of the Video Gaming Act, which state legislators approved in 2009 as part of how to pay for a $32 billion capital improvement program.

The law allows establishments where alcohol is served for consumption (as opposed to carry-out), plus licensed fraternal and veterans establishments, and truck stops to conduct video gambling, with payouts capped at $500 on any one play and the number of terminals at any one place limited to five. It also allows municipalities to opt out and have it remain illegal in their borders.

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