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Local

Gambling machines turned on in Sauk Valley

Bars, restaurants must invest up to $100,000 to get started

STERLING – Video gambling enthusiasts can now play to their heart’s content in cities across the Sauk Valley.

Weeks after Blackhawk Lanes in Sterling turned on what appeared to be the first gaming terminals in the area, video gambling now operates in Rock Falls, Dixon, Morrison and other establishments in Sterling.

John Neville, president of Blackhawk Gaming Solutions, said terminals are in operation at The Cooler in Rock Falls, The Depot in Sterling, Tipsy in Dixon, and Fatboys bar in Morrison.

Under the state Video Gaming Act, cities and villages can pass ordinances to allow video gambling machines and collect tax revenue from them.

According to the law, any bar, restaurant or other establishment that has a liquor license and is approved by the state Gaming Board can have up to five machines.

Gene O’Shea is director of the Self-Exclusion Program for Problem Gamblers, which is affiliated with the Illinois Gaming Board.

As of Dec. 6, O’Shea said, 383 locations across the state had machines up and running, with 1,566 terminals in operation. Machines have been licensed in more than 600 sites.

O’Shea said that getting machines to locations is “not moving as quickly as we had hoped.”

Machine operators come up with the money, pay for the machines, and enter into a contract with establishments to install machines, he said.

O’Shea said 74 operators had been licensed to put machines in venues in Illinois. Each location is in a contract with an operator.

“The cost for putting in five machines, also have to put in redemption device ... is between $50,000 to $100,000,” he said.

Operators also have to have financing approved, he said. Of the licensed operators, not even half have had financing approved, he said, which is slowing the process of getting machines running in some places.

The newest places to play

Tipsy ushered video gaming into Dixon on Dec. 6 with five machines in a game room. Manager Caroline Burkett Scott said her business had worked with a lawyer since 2010 to make sure it was among the first in the area with legalized gaming.

Burkett is uncertain what kind of income it will bring, but she said she has seen new customers playing the games. The downtown bar will open earlier, at 1 p.m., to accommodate the potential new business, and will follow a strict 21-and-older policy.

“We’re excited to see how it plays out,” Burkett said. ”... I don’t think it will change our bar and the customers we see too much.”

The Depot in Sterling has had five terminals since the night of Dec. 6, said manager Savana Egan. She said people still are discovering the terminals are in operation.

Egan said she hopes the machines bring in more people.

“We don’t have any casinos around here,” she said. “I have played one. ... I like it; [it’s] exactly like a casino.”

Egan also said she expects the machines will help the business’s bottom line.

How things are going

Since Nov. 1, five video game machines have been running at Blackhawk Lanes, said owner TJ Paone. He said players have liked the machines so far.

“Every response has been a positive one that I have heard,” Paone wrote in an email. “We are seeing new people to the business all of the time. The games have even brought in some customers that have not been in the bowling center in many years.”

According to the November report from the website of the state Gaming Board, the net revenue for terminals at Paone’s Blackhawk Lanes was $13,883. Of that, the state receives $3,111 and the city’s share is $622.

After paying the communication fees and splitting revenue with Accel Entertainment, Blackhawk’s provider, the bowling alley’s share is about $5,000, Paone wrote.

The additional revenue is helping to “recover the cost of remodeling for the anticipated start of the video gaming that we originally performed,” Paone wrote.

“The revenue will also be used to help offset some of the economic downturn in revenue and increase in state taxes and business expenses that have taken place recently,” he added.

Reporter Derek Barichello contributed to this report.

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