(MCT) — Elgin just shot down the idea of citywide video gambling, not wanting to jeopardize the health of the casino that has brought millions of dollars to its budget. The casino towns of Des Plaines and Aurora also are shying away from the machines, according to state records.
The big exception is Joliet: Since the City Council voted in the spring to allow bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations and veterans groups to run video poker and blackjack, 37 establishments with Joliet addresses have sought state licenses to get the machines. That's the highest number by far of any Chicago-area community.
Mayor Tom Giarrante said he spoke to executives at Joliet's two casinos last year and they did not object to the expansion of gambling.
"They said they didn't have a lot of problem with it because the type of gambler (bars and restaurants) are going to attract probably would not come to the casino," he said. "It will be a husband and wife who go to a bar, and while he has a couple of beers, she'll be playing video poker."
Officials at Harrah's and Hollywood Casino, the companies that run Joliet's riverfront gambling parlors, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Illinois is seeing a gambling gold rush as more than 1,200 applicants — mostly bar owners — seek licenses to put up to five video poker or blackjack machines in their establishments. The Illinois Gaming Board has approved just a handful so far, and spokesman Gene O'Shea said they could be allowed to operate as soon as Aug. 1, when a computer system that monitors the machines is expected to be up and running.
Revenue from the machines is to be divided among several parties, with the state getting 25 percent and the host county or town 5 percent (the rest will be split evenly between the company that operates the machine and the bar or club in which it sits). State officials have estimated their total take could be more than $400 million a year, though that number has gone steadily down as more communities opt out of video gambling.
Joliet's projected windfall obviously would be far more modest. City Manager Tom Thanas said he expected it to be in the low six figures — a fraction of the $21 million the casinos gave the city last year. He said he's not counting on any video poker money for the rest of this year's budget.
Indeed, there's reason to believe that gambling revenue could be a shaky bet. O'Shea said there is no limit to the number of establishments that can install the machines, and competition would limit the amount each one would pay out. Bars and clubs in 14 other Will County communities also are seeking video gambling licenses.
Giarrante added that should the state authorize another casino in the south suburbs, Joliet could lose $5 million in city revenue from its gambling parlors.
In the short term, though, at least one person in Joliet is counting on video gambling being a big winner. That's Alfonso "Izzy" Izquierdo, owner of Izzy's bar, the one place in town that has received its license.
His place is not far from the casinos, and he's hoping for a rush of business when they close for two hours each morning. He said he doesn't have a figure in mind for how much money his five machines might bring in, but he thought their presence also could increase his bar's liquor and food sales.
He allowed, though, that his good luck could prove fleeting as other establishments gain their gambling licenses.
"Being the first one is definitely an advantage, but it's just like everything else," he said. "We share a lot of the same customers. The machines won't help all of us."