Q Bar and Grill owner Robert Taft would like to add video gaming machines to his establishment at 8109 S. Cass Ave. in Darien. But as the number of Illinois bar owners applying for gaming licenses continues to grow, he worries that being in the back of that line could mean the end of the line for his business.
Over the past month, Taft has been asking Darien officials to help him stay competitive with bar owners in neighboring towns by reversing the city’s 2009 decision to ban video gaming. Taft thinks the addition of video poker machines will bring in new clientele and boost revenues at his bar and grill, which already features pool and Foosball tables, dartboards, bean bags and video arcade games.
In an effort to gauge the consensus of the city council, Mayor Kathleen Weaver asked each alderman to offer his or her opinion on whether Darien should revisit its ban on video gaming. A synopsis of their comments follows:
- Joseph Marchese wondered if Q Bar and Grill is the only business seeking video gaming – or if the other 17 eligible businesses in the city would want it, as well. And, in response to suggestions that the city should wait six months to revisit the issue, Marchese pointed to state reports showing an increase from $1 million to $125 million in revenue over the short time video gaming has been operational in Illinois – and wondered if the city should approve gaming sooner rather than later.
- Tina Beilke said she had visited Countryside, where video gaming is currently operating, and was “pleasantly surprised at how it ran.” Beilke said she could envision people coming to Darien for events at the Sportsplex and after events there, the availability of video gaming “may make them linger a little more.” She also said she had informally surveyed residents and only about one out of every 12 seemed to be against video gaming.
- Joerg Seifert said that as a small business owner himself, he appreciates the need to add value to the product you are selling - whether live bands or specialized food - especially in an economy in which discretionary income is limited. As for the negative connotation gambling may conjure for some, Seifert said that with video gaming, the maximum bet is $2 and the maximum payout is $500, so he “found it hard to believe” that people would be losing their paychecks playing video games. On the contrary, Seifert said, not allowing video gaming machines could be detrimental to businesses by not allowing them to compete with establishments in other towns.
- To Halil Avci, the jury is still out on video gaming. Since the machines just went live this fall, he said, there is only about four months of data available – not enough to weigh its impact on a community. He cited a national gambling impact study that he said showed “convenience” gambling provides fewer benefits and more problems, such as increased crime. Avci suggested that rather than taking action now, the city council may want to monitor the situation and learn from the experience of neighboring towns – then perhaps revisit the subject in the coming months. “Once you give this permission, it’s hard to take it back,” Avci said.
- Sylvia McIvor said she “tends to be kind of conservative,” and is focusing on how allowing video gambling would impact the community as a whole. With “very little data” to look at, she said she wouldn’t feel comfortable being one of the first communities in the area to “rush into it.”
- John Poteraske said he thinks a wait-and-see attitude is the right one.” He read from a list of nearby communities who had all said “no” to video gaming – and didn’t seem eager to break out of the pack.
- Ted Schauer said he’d like to wait about six months to see what will happen in Westmont and Willowbrook, if they decide to allow video gaming. “There are too many questions on the table,” Schauer said.
“I think I’m hearing we will wait and see,” said Weaver after polling council members. She said she would like village officials to poll other businesses in the city to see what they think, gather input from the chief of police on video gaming and crime – and revisit the matter later.
City council members also discussed putting the video gaming question on Darien’s “Direct Connect” and asking residents to weigh in on the topic.
Following the council discussion, Taft pointed out that 11 other states have approved video gaming with “very limited wagers and very limited payouts” and machines that are “very high class.”
Taft cited his longtime ties to the community and assured the council video gaming would not be detrimental to the city – but worries his business will suffer if he is not allowed to add video gaming to increase his customer base in a tough economy.
He encouraged council members to think about “opting in” to the state’s video gaming program for now – which would allow him to get in line to apply for the video gaming licenses, for which the backlog is growing day by day.
“Even if you opted in right now, you are probably looking at a year,” Taft said. “If you wait six months, the backlog will grow.”
As reported previously, On Oct. 9, 2012, when video gaming “went live,” video gaming terminals became operational in 278 establishments across Illinois. The IGB currently lists more than 1,100 video gaming licensees - and as of Feb. 11, 2013, the state board was processing video gaming license applications from more than 2,500 entities.
Although he city council took no action on video gaming Tuesday night, Mayor Weaver said the city would continue to gather information and revisit the issue at a future meeting.