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Illinois video gambling put on hold

The many McHenry County communities that reversed ordinances this summer to allow for video gaming in bars and restaurants will have to wait longer than anticipated before they can have electronic gambling.

Gene O’Shea, a spokesman for the Illinois Gaming Board, said the agency is running a few weeks behind on its video gaming launch date, when bars, restaurants, veterans clubs and other liquor license holders across the state can start operating the machines for good.

Throughout the summer, local officials from Marengo to McHenry were under the impression that video gaming in Illinois would be up and running by August. But O’Shea said the gaming delay, in part, exists because operators still are waiting on the devices that redeem the gaming winnings for patrons.

“We are a little bit behind, but not by much,” O’Shea said. “We were hoping to have some of the machines up and running by Labor Day. Once we get the testing done, then we’ll move forward with it.”

In the coming weeks, the gaming board is expected to test the gaming machines at selected locations throughout the state.

If the machines run smoothly, the many bars and restaurants that already have been granted a video gaming license then would be allowed to use the machines and start collecting the profits, O’Shea said.

The journey to start video gaming in Illinois has been a complicated one. After Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law in 2009, the gaming board encountered funding problems to get regulations and gaming bids in place.

A constitutional challenge from Rocky Wirtz, Chicago Blackhawks owner and head of the family’s liquor distributorship, in 2011 also stalled progress on video gaming until the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional.

Video gaming is the primary source of funding for a $31 billion plan to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. The law allows machine operators and local businesses to collect most of the gaming revenue. The state ultimately collects 25 percent of the revenue, and the local governments receive 5 percent.

With video gaming almost active, local communities across the state this summer had to decide whether to allow businesses to use the machines. Some communities, including Marengo, Huntley, McHenry, Spring Grove and Fox River Grove, voted to allow for video gaming, while other cities, including Crystal Lake, rejected the issue.

The flurry of activity in the summer has led to a dramatic increase in the number of businesses applying for gaming licenses, O’Shea said.

After an initial slow response, four businesses in Huntley now have gaming licenses, including Sammy’s and the Huntley American Legion, state records show.

More than 12 businesses in McHenry have been granted licenses, while Marengo currently has nine gaming licenses. Other places, such as Spring Grove, have three license holders.

The increase in licenses also have delayed the gaming board’s launch date, since some applicants aren’t filling out the forms correctly, O’Shea said. But once the board completes its testing, the agency will conclude a project that has taken three years to complete.

“After those two weeks of testing are done, and we know the system is going to handle everything, everybody who has systems installed will start gaming.”

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