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Local park board presidents aren’t ruling out gaming terminals

Sam Volkert practices his swing Wednesday at the driving range at Buena Vista Golf Course in DeKalb.
Sam Volkert practices his swing Wednesday at the driving range at Buena Vista Golf Course in DeKalb.

DeKALB – DeKalb resident Sam Volkert golfs three to four times a week, and he places the occasional $1 side bet with friends.

Volkert was at the driving range Wednesday at Buena Vista golf course in DeKalb. He said adding video gambling in clubhouse bars at golf courses might be a good idea.

“As long as they don’t go overboard, I don’t see how it would be a problem,” Volkert said.

Some Illinois park districts, including in Joliet, are planning to install video gambling machines in their golf course clubhouses, and other park districts already operate them. The terminals – and the revenue they can generate – could be a boon for local courses owned by the Sycamore and DeKalb park districts, which have struggled with past budget deficits.

But don’t expect to see them any time soon.

Adding video gaming machines to River Heights Golf Course or Buena Vista Golf Course would only be done with input from the community and evidence from other park districts that the machines produce positive results, DeKalb Park Board President Phil Young said.

“If it makes sense and the public supported it, I think the board would entertain it,” Young said. “But we would look to the fall to do this if someone brought it forward. So far, it hasn’t been brought to our attention.”

Under Illinois’ video gaming law, terminal operators and the establishment where the gaming device is located split almost 70 percent of the revenue collected by the machines. Gambling machines in DeKalb County took about $2.44 million from gamblers last year. 

The DeKalb Park District is looking at ways to generate revenue at both golf courses. The River Heights clubhouse recently was remodeled with an updated bar and snack area, but golf courses across the board struggle to stay profitable, he said.

“We are looking at ways to generate money for our golf enterprise fund, so I wouldn’t make a decision either way unless we as a board looked into it,” Young said.

The state’s Video Gambling Act doesn’t address local governments obtaining a gaming license, Illinois Gaming Board spokesman Gene O’Shea said. The only requirements are that the facility must have a license to serve liquor on the premises and a clean background check.

“It’s a question for the local government and those communities to decide,” O’Shea said.

The Joliet park board last week approved a five-year contract with Donico LLC to manage machines at one of its facilities, with plans to add them at two others pending state approval of the gaming licenses. The Elk Grove Park District operates four machines and the Foss Park District operates five machines, according to reports from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Elk Grove’s machines saw $36,039 in play in February while the Foss machines saw $135,009.

Sycamore’s park board will take up the issue in the next few months, Board President Ted Strack said. The Sycamore Golf Club has run at a deficit in prior years, but spending cuts have led to a break-even budget projection this year.

Although he said the board has an obligation to look at revenues and he would support whatever the majority of his fellow board members decided, Strack doesn’t feel video gambling and the Sycamore Park District should mix.

“I think gambling is inconsistent with the image we want to create,” Strack said.

Both golf course employees and local golfers know that some golfers also are gamblers. Jim Cliffe, clubhouse associate at Buena Vista golf course, said many of the golfers there are seniors or college students.

Although Cliffe said he has only been to a casino once in his life, he wouldn’t be opposed to video gambling at local golf courses.

“It has been a real boom for the bars in town,” he said.

Northern Illinois University senior Joe Vandenbos said he went to a casino last week with a friend.

Vandenbos, who is in a golf class, said the video gambling could add traffic and revenue to local golf courses.

“It’s a win-win,” Vandenbos said.

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