Video gambling could come to Woodstock
The Woodstock City Council plans to vote on potentially lifting the ban on video gambling machines at bars and restaurants at its Oct. 2 meeting.
At the council’s Sept. 18 meeting, council members came to a consensus to have the question appear on an upcoming agenda. Currently, the city bans video gambling devices despite the state approving the machines. A petition from restaurant and bar owners led to the discussion.
“This City Council took a position a while back not to truly talk about [the machines] until the Illinois State Gaming Board [established the regulations],” Mayor Brian Sager said, indicating the time has come to begin discussing the possibility since testing of the machines has begun in certain locations throughout the state. “If we never took any action at all, [the ban] would remain [in place].”
While liquor licenses are regulated by the city and gaming licenses are regulated by the state, Sager noted that a violation on either side could jeopardize the other license.
Paul Jenson, an attorney at Shefsky & Froelich, Chicago, focuses his practice on gaming laws. He said the regulations have been defined over the past three years and qualified professionals are continually refining the law. He said the potential to have liquor licenses revoked will cause each bar and restaurant owner to take the privilege seriously.
“That [liquor license] is everything to these people,” he said.
The state has limited establishments to a maximum of five machines per location. No person under 21 is permitted to gamble. The machines must be placed in a restricted area unless the location does not admit individuals under 21 at any time. A partition, gate or rope separating the space is acceptable. An employee who is 21 or older must be able to see the entrance to the gaming area. While the area may be monitored with a video camera, a video camera monitoring system alone is not sufficient.
Under the state law, a tax of 30 percent is imposed on net terminal income. The state takes 25 percent, and 5 percent goes back to the municipality. Stephanie Drougas, who represented video-gaming terminal operator Triple 7, said each machine is expected to return $2,600 to the city and $15,000 to the business owner.
Drougas said the machines are considered low-volatility gaming machines, with bets ranging from 1 cent to $2 per play.
“[The number of problem gamblers] are statistically low with regards to these machines,” she said. “The people who like to gamble to a more excessive degree would likely head to riverboats or casinos.”
Bill Lock, governor of the Woodstock Moose Lodge, said the machines would help the club’s efforts to increase community service in the area.
“It’s not about making money for us. It’s about making money for these kids,” he said. “We could not keep any of that money that would be made. It would all go to Mooseheart and Moosehaven.”
John Widmayer, president of the Woodstock VFW Post 5040, said the machines would give the VFW a boost to keep its building open.
Mark Gummerson, representing Coleman & Company, said it is difficult to legislate moral decisions.
“What it comes down to is a business decision,” he said, provided the proper regulations are in place. “If Woodstock does not pass it, those patrons [who want to gamble] will go elsewhere.”
Council member Julie Dillon said the state regulations combined with responsible Woodstock business owners has made her open to discussing the issue further.
“In general, I don’t feel the need to legislate what people are doing,” said Council member Mike Turner, but added his mind isn’t made up either. He said he views the machines as neither the silver bullet nor the evil each side has proclaimed.