BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
It was a decision Doug Wagoner of Hoopeston wasn’t sure about a year ago. Looking at the new video gaming laws in Illinois, the owner of Fast Lanes bowling alley in Hoopeston pondered whether he wanted to be part of the new video system being set up.
Now, with two months of the video gambling system, Wagoner is among the first in the county to see additional profits come in as a result of the new system.
“I believe they are beginning to get a little more popular,” he said last week. On that day, three people from Indiana were in the business playing the machines.
“I see people that come in and play them that didn’t play before,” Wagoner added. “We’re starting to get people that didn’t realize we had them.”
Buying into the new video gaming setup in Illinois hasn’t been a gamble for local establishment owners who have opted to install the gambling terminals in their businesses.
As of Monday, 13 establishments in Vermilion County had been licensed for video gaming systems by the Illinois Gaming Board. The two earliest were the Little Nugget, 6 S. Henning Road, and Turtle Run Golf Club, 332 E. Liberty Lane. Both received licenses on Sept. 20.
Overall, the establishments are spread throughout the county with three in Hoopeston, one each in Westville, Tilton and Catlin and seven in and around Danville.
Under terms of the Illinois Video Gaming Act, the licensed video gaming machines can be installed in establishments where liquor is served for consumption on site as well as licensed fraternal establishments, veterans’ organizations and truck stops.
Video gaming is not allowed in the villages of Rossville and Potomac, according to the state gaming board website.
Wagoner said he filed his application with the state in March but only after trying — with little luck — to get some of his questions answered.
“They didn’t know what the heck they were doing and you could never get an answer out of anyone,” Wagoner said. “Only after I got someone there that I talked to and knew what he was doing that I decided to go ahead with it.”
It has paid off well for him quickly. According to monthly reports issued by the Illinois Gaming Board, five establishments in Vermilion County have reported income from the video gaming terminals.
Of those, Fast Lanes recorded $563 in returns for the month of November. December was much better, however, as the three machines brought in a little more than $3,400. The returns were lower at the other two Hoopeston locations: BJ’s Pump and Buddy Egnew VFW Post 4896.
After taxes, business owners must split the final monetary total with the terminal operator.
Two businesses around Danville have recorded higher returns in their first two months. Turtle Run saw its cut in the gambling terminal returns go from $841 in November to $9,920 in December. The Little Nugget saw a bigger jump, going from $641 to $14,689.
Turtle Run owner Chris Heeren said the November total only reflects about five days of the machines operating. But the returns in December are undeniable.
“Anytime we can add a revenue stream to our existing business it’s big no matter what the number is,” he said. “It allows us to do capital improvements, to improve the facility and keep our doors open.”
Heeren said he made several capital improvements to Snapper’s prior to installing the new machines in order to create a semi-private area for the video gaming terminals. As a result, he said people are in the bar as early as 10 a.m. — when the bar opens — to play the new gambling terminals.
“The technology has improved so much and these are a little more enjoyable to play and they get to a payout,” he said, comparing the new terminals to the amusement-only machines previously featured.
Word of the potential for the machines has spread quickly. According to the Illinois Gaming Board, a total of 43 establishments are listed as pending for application approval as of Monday. The locations range from bars, restaurants and bowling alleys to various veterans and fraternal organizations. So far, just one Danville bar has had its application denied by the state gaming board.
Under the state’s gaming law, establishments can install as many as five video gaming terminals. Most of the locations that have reported income figures to the gaming board have five machines on their premises.
For Wagoner, how many machines to bring in was as much as dilemma as whether to apply for the license in the first place. Three machines fit well into the room separate from the bowling alley lanes and, as of right now, expanding isn’t an option for him.
I don’t plan on it at all,” he said. “The simple fact is that I’ve got three and as long as I got three people playing, I’m OK.
“I’ve only got so much room,” Wagoner said, noting he has to consider whether adding another machine or two “would justify losing a table to serve food at.”
There are five machines in the specialized area of Snapper’s. Heeren said economics made the decision an easy one for his business.
“It’s just been difficult with the economy,” he said. “We’re in a business of discretionary income. If anyone has to cut out something in their budget, it’s going to be something that’s discretionary.”
The new gambling terminals will help keep people coming in the doors.
“We’ll use anything that we can add to our business to get people out here and show them,” Heeren said.