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Bars, clubs rush to get a piece of video action

Published: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Video gamblers in Illinois lost $106 million in the first half of the year, meaning tens of thousands of dollars for the bars and clubs that have the machines and extra cash for state and city governments.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that since video poker and slot machines were legalized last year, 1,800 licenses have been granted and 2,000 more applicants are waiting in line.

The bonanza has meant more customers and more improvements for taverns, truck stops, bowling alleys and fraternal organizations that installed the machines. And it even has some local governments that banned the gambling outlets to reconsider their positions.

Just in June, Jesters in Waukegan took in $70,000 lost by wagering customers. The bar and the machine operator split $50,000 of that. The state treasury gained $18,000 and the city of Waukegan took $3,500.

“It had to happen or we weren’t going to exist,” said 75-year-old George Lawrence, who’s run Bertrand’s Lounge and bowling alley in Waukegan for 49 years. “The young people don’t participate. They don’t join anything, bowling leagues or civic groups.”

Bertrand’s netted nearly $20,000 of the bettors’ losses in June. Don Volpe, owner of The Cordial Inn in west suburban Brookfield, said the extra money has helped him fix up the place he’s owned for three decades, hiring a bathroom-cleaning crew, buying three flat screen televisions and redoing the parking lot.

Local governments can opt out under state law, and some have, notably Chicago and unincorporated parts of Cook, DuPage and Lake counties.

But some areas that originally said “nay” have begun to take notice. Sugar Grove, in Kane County, reversed its ban on video gambling in January at the request of the American Legion and others.

McHenry County undid its prohibition for unincorporated areas in April and Lake County is considering the same.

Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said towns in his area were in some cases desperate for money.

“The communities made a judgment that the folks using these machines are going to spend the money anyway,” Paesel said. “Why not bolster the local establishments and the municipalities?”

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