Video gambling goes live at 65 Ill. bars, eateries

TAMMY WEBBER, Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Video gambling went live in 65 Illinois bars and restaurants on Tuesday, more than three years after lawmakers approved it as a way to help raise billions to help fix schools and roads.

The Illinois Gaming Board has licensed a total of 341 businesses and fraternal and veteran organizations _ though not all have their terminals installed yet _ and is processing more than 2,200 other applications, gambling officials said.

"The IGB's staff has done a tremendous job to ... bring this new industry to Illinois," board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said in a written statement. All sites and operators must undergo a background check.

Lawmakers approved video gambling in 2009 to help fund a $31 billion construction program to fix schools, roads, bridges and other projects, and estimated at the time that it would raise about $375 million a year for the state. A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn did not immediately respond to a request for updated projections Tuesday.

Jeff Glover, manager of Chino's Pizzeria in the Chicago suburb of Justice, said he'd just finished mopping when he saw the restaurant's three terminals activated around 11:30 a.m.

"I threw $5 in there and it played normal," said Glover, adding that customers have been frustrated after months of waiting. "Once word gets out that these are on, it should be really busy."

Patrons at The Assembly American Bar & Cafe in Hoffman Estates have been able to play on its five machines for two weeks because the eatery was a test site, as the state worked out any kinks, owner Gary Taylor said.

He said the machines have been popular, but he doubts they will bring in as much revenue as terminal operators and the state have projected. The state will get 25 percent and local municipalities 5 percent of net income after winnings are paid. The other 70 percent is split by the business owners and the companies that operate the machines.

"A lot of the people we've seen are playing penny or nickel slots," said Taylor, who said one customer did win the maximum prize _ $500 for a $2 bet _ over the weekend. "We don't see it as any huge income but it's great entertainment for guests before or after meals."

The 65 locations announced Tuesday have a total of 278 video gambling terminals. Gambling officials have estimated that up to 75,000 machines could be installed statewide within a year.

Gambling officials said 633 cities and counties have enacted ordinances to allow video gambling, and several had to reverse bans on video gambling to take advantage of the potential new revenue. Hundreds of communities still prohibit the practice. Opposition largely has come from church groups that question how much revenue the machines will bring and worry about the social cost.

Lynn Morris, CEO of Morris Gaming, which supplies terminals to businesses, said the process of implementing video gambling has been slow but that "everyone's ... over the moon after three years of hard work."

Shortly after the law was passed, Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz sued the state over higher taxes in the legislation to pay for the construction program. That lawsuit questioned the legality of video gambling, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional.

Then there were errors in the contract bidding process and the Gaming Board claimed staffing shortages.