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Are bars' bets paying off?

Local owners happy with impact of video gaming machines so far

STERLING – Local business owners say they are pleased with the impact of video gaming machines in their establishments.

They say the devices have brought new customers and helped their bottom line.

Businesses across the state also are benefiting from the devices being in operation.

Under the state Video Gaming Act, cities and villages can enact ordinances to allow video gambling machines and to 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.

There are now more than 3,000 machines in operation across the state, said Gene O’Shea, director of the Self-Exclusion Program for Problem Gamblers. The organization is affiliated with the Illinois Gaming Board.

According to totals from December, $91,811,087 was played in video gaming machines across the state. That number is from a report posted online by the Illinois Video Gaming Board.

Of the total amount played across the state, players won $84,816,493. Some of those winnings have gone to players in the Sauk Valley. Terminals are up and running in Sterling, Rock Falls, Dixon and Morrison.

O'Shea said many additional businesses are waiting to be brought online for terminal operation.

One local establishment with terminals is Cardwell's W&D Tap in Rock Falls. Owner Ryan Cardwell said the machines have helped his business so far. He has three terminals.

During December, $62,707 was played at the Rock Falls bar. The amount won was $56,995. The net terminal income was $5,719.

"They're great, got no complaints," Cardwell said of the machines. "They [customers] seem to enjoy them. When there's people here, they definitely play them."

Cardwell said the machines have brought in new customers to his business, too.

He was asked how customers are responding to the machines so far.

"When they win, I don't hear anything bad," he said.

The co-owner of The Cooler in Rock Falls said her business, too, has seen benefits from the video terminals.

"We're seeing new people, new faces come in," said Kendra Sotelo, who owns the bar with her husband, Rene.

On weekends when The Cooler has bands performing, all three of the terminals are busy, Kendra said.

"Maybe people that wouldn't have come in before are coming in," Kendra said. "If they're in here during the bands, [they're] finding out the quality of the bands we have, then coming back."

Kendra said she hopes the volume of play at her business will merit the maximum five machines per location. A total of $72,304 was played at The Cooler in December; $65,179 is the total amount won.

The net terminal income seen from the machines was $7,125.

The city of Rock Falls earned $642 in December for its share of proceeds.

Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert said it was simply too soon for the city to see a major benefit from the machines. She said the terminals haven't had a substantial impact so far.

"We want our businesses to be on an even playing field, that's why they were willing to go ahead and approve it," she said.

Linda Burkitt, the owner of Tipsy in Dixon, said she is "pleasantly surprised" by the impact of the devices so far. She said the revenue generated from the machines has been "gravy" for the business.

The net terminal income for the Dixon business in December was $7,131.

"At this point, we're just paying bills," Burkitt said of the money generated. "The bar business has been slow. This time of of year is really dead. It's allowing us to pay bills normally we would be struggling to pay."

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