Push to expand video gambling comes as industry continues to grow

2014-03-30T00:00:00Z Push to expand video gambling comes as industry continues to growKurt Erickson and T.J. Fowler Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com

SPRINGFIELD | When it comes to video gambling, the majority of the most lucrative sites in Illinois are bars or restaurants.

But that could change under a proposal to allow truck stops to have twice as many video gaming machines as other establishments.

Under the state's new video gambling law, bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations can operate a maximum of five machines as a way to generate cash for state construction projects.

A Rockford lawmaker's plan to allow 10 machines at truck stops was endorsed by a Senate panel last week and now heads to the full Senate for further debate.

Republican state Sen. Dave Syverson said adding machines at truck stops could pull in more revenue from out-of-state drivers.

"What happens is the truckers come and park at the stops for long periods of times, but the stops are only allowed five machines. So you have 50, 60 truckers there and only five machines to use," Syverson said. "So, truckers get frustrated, and some will go to other states where there’s a lot more games and instead of staying in Illinois, they’ll just go to Iowa, fill up, and then drive right through the state."

While figures show bars and restaurants are dominating the top 25 most lucrative video gambling sites, truck stops are holding their own.

January figures from the Illinois Gaming Board show truck stops in Bloomington and Normal owned by Chronister Oil Co. are No. 2 and No. 24 in terms of generating tax revenue.

Chronister's Bloomington Qik-N-Ez location at the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Morrissey Drive is classified as a truck stop, but it is not one in the traditional sense of being a full-service trucker's home alongside an interstate.

Rather, it is more like a combination gas station and convenience store with a private area for people over the age of 21 to play video poker.

Wendy Chronister, CEO of the Springfield-based company, said she is not entirely surprised by the success of the venture, saying her stores provide a clean, safe and friendly venue for gamblers.

"We start out with having a good environment," Chronister said.

Chronister has a found a winning formula. Along with its Bloomington store, its location on North Main Street in Normal is ranked as the 24th highest money-maker for the state in January.

"It has been successful and its good news for the state."

Also high on the list of video gambling sites are Baby Bulls restaurant in Pontiac; the Road Ranger in Tuscola and Woody's tavern at 1190 W. Southside Dr. in Decatur.

Video gambling first launched in Illinois in September 2012 as a way to help pay for a statewide road, bridge and school construction program.

It has been growing since. With more than 14,423 terminals in establishments at the end of January. forecasts show the industry could generate between $100 million and $200 million for the state.

That's down from initial estimates, largely because Chicago opted out of the program and doesn't allow video gaming within its borders.

Even with Chicago not on board, figures show in January that players plunked down nearly $500 million to play the games, generating $9.6 million for the state and $1.9 million in revenue for local municipalities.

Those numbers are expected to continue growing.

Through Feb. 26, the Illinois Gaming Board had applications on file from an additional 740 companies looking to put machines in their establishments.

If each of those gets the maximum five machines, that could add another 3,700 terminals to the mix in the coming months.

If players keep up their current pace, those new machines could add an estimated $30 million in revenue in a year.

The applications are from throughout the state.

In Benton, the Boneyard Boccie Ball Club is seeking a license. Cafe Brio, a restaurant in Decatur, has applied to become a site.

Mountain Jacks in Moline is seeking a permit, as is Chubby's in Atlanta, The Gallery in Desoto and Indian Creek Golf Course in Fairbury.

Despite the expected growth in the industry, Syverson said he hopes his truck stop proposal gets serious consideration in the coming months.

"Some of the truck stops I’ve talked to have said they get a lot of complaints from truckers that say, ‘Hey, that guy’s been on the machine for an hour, and I want a chance to play before I get on the road,'" Syverson said.

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