(MCT) — Sergio De Los Santos struggled with whether video poker machines would be right for his bar and restaurant in downtown Geneva.
"In the beginning, we didn't want to do it for the principle," he said, adding he was worried the image of his Mexican-themed Sergio's Cantina could become focused on gambling.
But, in the end, De Los Santos and his co-owner and wife Lindsey De Los Santos decided to apply for a state video gaming license. They appear to be the first business in Geneva to do so, according to the Illinois Gaming Board website, but aren't the only ones who think video gaming will boost revenue.
"In the winter, it's really slow here," De Los Santos said. "It might help."
In 2009, state lawmakers approved the Video Gaming Act, leaving it up to each municipality to decide if they'll allow the practice or opt out of the act. St. Charles and Batavia have voted to ban the practice.
Most towns in the western suburbs have banned the practice. About 10 towns in Kane and DuPage counties will allow it. There are more video poker-friendly communities in the Cook County western suburbs, including Berwyn. Some, like Forest Park, remain undecided.
Some towns, including Geneva's neighbor St. Charles, were quick to ban it after the 2009 state law passed. Now that they know what surrounding communities are doing, local officials considered taking up the issue again, said Mayor Don DeWitte. The council also wanted to allow new members to weigh in, he said, but the ban remained.
"Gambling has always been readily available to residents in our community either in Elgin or Aurora (at the casinos)," he said. "The council felt strongly enough that (gambling) was not an element they wanted to introduce in the city of St. Charles."
Furthermore, DeWitte doesn't believe video poker in nearby towns will affect business in St. Charles, again citing the proximity of casinos. It's not a new threat, he said.
But De Los Santos in Geneva said part of the reason he applied for a license is worry that nearby businesses will have video poker and steal business.
Matthew Daly, an employee at The Dam Bar and Grill in Geneva, believes video poker machines are sure to drive foot traffic – and revenue will follow.
"They'd come out of the blue," he said. "People love to gamble."
Officials in Elgin recently discussed the possibility of reversing their local ban on video poker, specifically to help services clubs such as the American Legion. Elgin leaders worry the machines would further erode revenue from its existing gambling venue, Grand Victoria Casino, which is already struggling due to the economy and the recent opening of the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
Some patrons wonder how gambling will affect the atmosphere of bars and restaurants in the towns that allow video gambling.
"If people are coming here for the purpose of gambling, it could change the tone, said Lou Vivona of Elmhurst, a patron of Sergio's Cantina. "If it's just a few little machines, it wouldn't matter.
As the Illinois Gaming Board prepares to green-light video poker games across the state, gambling officials have gone community-by-community to determine whether the games will be legal.
Not only, have state officials had to determine whether a city or village has opted out of the new video poker law, but whether a communities have old anti-gambling laws – some decades old – that would prevent the games.