MARSHALL, Ill. —
New gaming laws in Illinois are drawing mixed responses as state officials hope they prove a winning hand in offsetting budget concerns.
Legalized video gambling became a reality in Illinois Tuesday, as more than 2,000 license applications were processed by the state’s gaming board. In Marshall, David Yaw had his five machines up and running Wednesday at Chances R Sports Bar & Grill on North Michigan Avenue.
“They’re in and live,” he said Sunday afternoon amid a full house of customers. “It’s already brought in people I’ve never seen before.”
Yaw, who owns similar businesses in Effingham and Greenup, said he’s brought in “true poker machines,” the kind people would see in casinos in Las Vegas or nearby Evansville, Ind. So far, the move has been good news for him.
In May of 2009, the Illinois General Assembly first approved a measure to allow a maximum of five machines per appropriate establishment, with hopes of generating revenue for its state capital improvements funds. Lengthy reviews and background checks of applicants have delayed the implementation as communities established their own standards of acceptability.
Marshall’s Mayor Ken Smith explained that the community has chosen to allow only four gaming permits in town, and those were quickly snapped up by Yaw, the Corner Tavern, and by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.
Since the issue first became public years ago, Smith said developers have been approaching the town in hopes of building “strip malls” with multiple gambling venues. Per state regulations, each establishment is allowed a maximum of five machines, but multiple locations could be built next to one another, he explained. The town’s proximity to Indiana was seen as a plus given potential cross-state traffic.
“The city decided against that. We don’t want to become a casino town,” he said. “We didn’t want all the other things that could come along with it.”
Each community can determine its own number of permits to issue, and that number can potentially change over the years if the need were to arise, he said.
To qualify for a gaming license, the location must either be a truck stop, a fraternal organization or possess a liquor license.
The machines themselves are actually owned by licensed vending companies, he said, and revenue will be split between that company, the location owner, the state of Illinois and, in his case, 5 percent will go to the
City of Marshall.
Allowing machines in fraternal organizations such as the VFW and American Legion seemed an easy enough decision, given the amount of money those groups put back into the community, he said. Two taverns in addition to the veterans’ clubs seemed okay, but still, he expressed a little surprise at the lack of protest.
“It slipped in and people really didn’t know about it,” he said, remarking he expected more moral concern to be expressed.
According to an Associated Press report, the impetus behind the video gambling bill is a $31 billion construction project involving schools, roads and transportation initiatives. Just how much money will actually be generated by the machines remains to be seen, but Smith said Marshall has decided to dedicate its 5 percent cut to the parks department. Given the state’s overall budget problems, he said the odds of significant funds coming down to Marshall are slim.
Meanwhile in Paris, Vito Moreschi said the machines just aren’t for him. Sunday afternoon, the owner of Savoia’s Pizza on North Main Street was greeting customers with pasta, not poker.
“I told them I didn’t want them,” the downtown proprietor of 25 years said.
Machine vendors approached him earlier about lining his walls with their wares, but in the end, Moreschi opted against the move. In the end, he isn’t sure allowing the machines will be a good move for the state anyway. “I think it should not be allowed. Like I said, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.