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Elgin City Council moves forward on video gaming

Updated: February 26, 2013 6:26AM

ELGIN — After hearing from the owners and operators of some local bars, restaurants and social clubs, the city council has taken a step that could lead to lifting Elgin’s current banning on video gaming in those establishments.

By what amounted to unanimous consent, the city’s legal staff was directed late Wednesday to come up with the necessary documentation to eliminate the ban by the Feb. 27 council meeting.

Mayor David Kaptain said his main condition for supporting such a move would be that any money the city would get from its cut of the bets placed go to a separate fund to aid social service agencies, particularly the 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 said 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 net income from the devices after winnings are paid. He said not allowing the gaming gave unfair advantage to businesses in other towns that do allow it.

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

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 Wednesday.

Changing minds

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.

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

But it was Prigge who had asked to have the video gaming issue included as a topic of discussion on Wednesday’s agenda. And Powell expressed her support Wednesday for the interested establishments getting gaming 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, bar owner Jill Hoppe told the council, “You’ve honestly listened to us. Thanks to each and every one of you.”

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 packaged goods liquor stores), plus licensed fraternal and veterans establishments, and truck stop 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.

The act calls for the gaming vendor and the host establishment each to get 35 percent of profits, with the state getting 25 percent and the local municipality 5 percent.

Safety moves

In other business, the council unanimously approved spending more than $374,000 on improvements and renovations to city hall, including almost $75,000 for security measures.

The security work includes installing Kevlar bullet proofing behind the council chamber dais (currently only the center seat is protected); panic buttons for each council member seat; security walls; security cameras throughout the chambers, entry stairwells and the city hall lobby; decorative vehicle barricades outside city hall; and metal detectors at the city hall entrance that would be staffed at meeting times and when court is in session.

City council chambers also serve as branch court for Kane County, and a metal detector outside its doors already is used when court is in session.

Kaptain said discussion about the renovations and safety measures has been under way for more than a year and well before recent mass shootings in public spaces across the country.

The project is expected to start in February so the dais can be expanded as the council grows from seven to nine members after the April election.

Other work will include audio/visual improvements to assist the hard-of-hearing and to provide higher-quality meeting broadcasts; and realigning office space to make room for the city’s eventual 311 call center through which residents will have their calls, questions, concerns and complaints tracked and routed.

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