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Casino seems to concede on video gaming in Elgin



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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:08PM

ELGIN — The Grand Victoria Casino says it wants to move past the issue of video gambling expansion in Elgin, apparently conceding the city is likely to approve the expansion.

With the city council set to look at an ordinance Feb. 27 that would allow gaming at qualifying bars, restaurants and other establishments in town, Grand Victoria general manager Jim Thomason came to Wednesday evening’s session to remind Elgin of the riverboat’s positive impact and its continuing support of the city.

Thomason said that when the casino heard Elgin was considering allowing the other gaming in the city, the casino operators were at first taken aback. But after thinking about it, they wanted to have an open conversation with the city, he said.

Thomason mentioned that on his way to work each day, he sees a hardware store that has gone out of business. Thomason said the casino doesn’t want to see another business close or struggle to compete.

Owners and operators of establishments that want to have video gaming claim that with most of the towns around Elgin already approving such gambling, they would lose business once it’s all up and running.

On Wednesday, Thomason predicted that within the next two years, practically every town in Illinois will be taking part in the state’s video gaming program.

“That’s how fast this is moving,” Thomason said.

Projects planned

Whatever the council decides, “What’s best for your city is best for us,” Thomason said, adding with a laugh that he hopes a decision is made quickly so he and City Manager Sean Stegall can get back to working on other matters.

At the casino, that would include several multimillion-dollar projects such as remodeling the buffet area, steakhouse and, in the second half of this year, the casino area. The casino plans to host a rock concert in the adjacent Festival Park sometime this summer, Thomason said.

Prior to Thomason’s remarks, a 20-minute video showed the positive impact the casino’s presence has had on Elgin.

The production mentioned that since opening in 1994, the casino has drawn 51 million visits that have generated $2 billion in tax money for the state and $338 million for Elgin.

Elgin has used the money for infrastructure, downtown revitalization and to assist nonprofits.

The casino also is the only one in Illinois that turns over 20 percent of its net profits to philanthropic efforts, with 7.5 percent of that net given to Kane County to use at its discretion toward such efforts, and 12.5 percent going to the Grand Victoria Foundation.

Locally, that led to the opening about nine years ago of the Elgin Child and Family Resource Center at 210 National St. The facility is a joint effort involving Kane County, Elgin and the GVF operated by One Hope United.

The foundation also assists communities across Illinois in addressing education, economic development, and environmental issues that have included riverfront improvements along the Fox from Aurora to Algonquin and projects along the shores of Lake Michigan, according to the presentation.

Gaming details

At a break in the meeting, Mike Flannagan, who has been spearheading a committee of Elgin establishments that want the gaming, said he was pleasantly happy by Thomason’s presentation, which seemed to him and others present that the casino is conceding that the gaming will be approved in Elgin.

Flannagan thanked the casino for what it has done for the city and for the council’s apparent readiness to take part in the state’s video gaming program.

Late last summer Illinois began enactment of the Video Gaming Act, which legislators approved in 2009 as part of how to pay for a $32 billion capital improvement program. With a thorough background checking system in place, establishments just started to offer the gaming in October, and only a handful of places close to Elgin currently offer such gambling.

The law allows video gambling at establishments where alcohol is served for consumption (as opposed to packaged goods liquor stores), plus licensed fraternal and veterans establishments, and truck stops, Payouts are 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.

It also allows municipalities to opt out and have it remain illegal in their borders.

Last week, Stegall met with Thomason and other casino representatives and was told that a predictive model the casino has created indicates the Grand Victoria could lose another 5 percent of its gross if Elgin decides to let bars, restaurants, social clubs and other qualifying establishments have up to the five computerized gambling machines each could have under the state’s Video Gaming Act. The city feels it could recoup any money it may lose from its share of the casino’s receipts from its cut of the video gaming money, Stegall said.

For a long time the state’s top-grossing casino, the Grand Victoria has seen its numbers drop dramatically after the state smoking ban went into effect in 2007, followed by the recession, then the Rivers Casino opening in Des Plaines in late 2011.

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