FULTON – When it comes to slot machines, how many are too many? That's the question City Council members are grappling with in this quaint Mississippi River town.
Local businesswoman Kathy Kingery, of the family-owned chain of three Manny's restaurants, wants to open a video gaming parlor in a budding shopping center on the east side of Fulton, on state Route 84 near its intersection with state Route 136.
To get a video gambling license, she must first have a liquor license, and because this city of 3,500 already has issued its limit – 11 – the council would need to grant her special request.
The city already has six establishments with a maximum five terminals each. Only one – Julie's Video Poker and Slots – is a gambling parlor only; the rest are slot machines in restaurants and bars, and so are not the primary source of the business' revenue. (A seventh, King Pins, is outside city limits and is regulated by Whiteside County, not the city.)
Some city officials, including the mayor, say one "gaming den" is enough.
Mayor Mike Ottens, who will not be voting on Kingery's request but has veto power over the council's decision, is opposed to additional businesses where gambling is the primary purpose.
In fact, in November, the council approved a liquor license for a new restaurant that also will have gambling machines, and are willing to do so for future full-service restaurants that meet certain stipulations.
"I would like to have more restaurants come to town, and they don't all have to have gaming machines necessarily," Alderman Mike Van Zuiden said at the December's meeting.
"But I think it's something, I'm hoping it's something, that's going to help the restaurant downtown get its legs under it."
If council members do decide to allow Kingery's establishment, though, they should reconsider previous gambling-only requests, Ottens said.
"If the council wants to say do it, then I'm going to say, as liquor commissioner, don't stop at one," he said.
"We'll have four or five or six or seven gaming dens in town. And when we try to be a tourist community ... the first thing people are going to see is gaming den, gaming den, gaming den, gaming den, gaming den. And we can count our tax revenues and say, 'Boy, that's worth the $30,000 [more in revenue] a year.' That's my position."
Kingery is no stranger to video gambling: She, father, Manny Castro, and other family members own and operate Manny's Pizza & Tacos in Sterling; Manny's Pizza in Savanna and Manny's Too in Fulton; each has five terminals.
Kingery also plans to have five terminals at her new business, and allow food delivery, but will not be selling food herself. It also will not be associated with Manny's.
Davenport, Iowa, developer Dan Dolan owns the site in the 1800 block of 16th Avenue, called Fulton Crossing, and has been trying to develop it as a shopping center since 2016. At this point, there is a World Finance branch and The Dispensary, a medical marijuana distributor. Kingery's business would be the third.
Kingery, who did not return messages from Sauk Valley Media seeking comment, told the city she plans to expand the building to accommodate her parlor.
Fulton is not alone in its concern over the spread of video gambling.
In October 2017, nearby Morrison capped its liquor licenses in categories affecting bars, restaurants and bowling alleys.
The cap doesn't prohibit the issuance of more liquor licenses, but it makes them more difficult to obtain – applicants will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Mayor Edward Pannier, also the city's liquor commissioner, has said the action was "the result of complaints the council was hearing from its constituents who believe the city doesn't need more gambling."
Sterling also capped its liquor licenses that most affects video gambling activity at 32, all of which have been awarded, and so it too, now evaluates requests on a case-by-case basis.
A vote on Kingery's request is planned for the next City Council meeting on Jan. 14.
The Clinton (Iowa) Herald contributed to this report.
By the numbers
Fulton's six establishments that have video gambling are Denny O's, Manny's Too, Johnnie's Tap, Paddlewheel Pizza, Triple Play Bowling and Banquet, and Julie's Video Poker and Slots, a gambling-only establishment.
A seventh location, King Pin’s Saloon and Dance Hall, is in Fulton Township but outside city limits, and so is regulated by Whiteside County, which receives its revenue.
According to the Illinois Gaming Board, this city of about 3,500 has received more than $75,000 in video gambling revenue this year and last, and $40,000 to $45,000 each of the 3 years before that.
All told, since video gambling became legal in September 2012, the city has received $309,346.27 (not including December's revenue, which has not yet been tallied, but should be around $6,800).
Aside from 2012, in which video gambling it was available for 4 months at only two establishments, the $27,372.30 the city garnered in 2013 was the least amount.
This year's 11-month total of $75,242.33 already has surpassed last year's $75.201.56.