CRYSTAL LAKE – A group of bar and restaurant owners are continuing their push to be allowed to have video gambling in their taverns.
Video gambling in bars and restaurants was made legal by the state as part of the state’s $31 billion capital plan. However, municipalities have to allow the practice within their borders for bars to take advantage.
The Crystal Lake City Council has said that it is against allowing video gambling in bars and restaurants, a stance that has angered some bar owners.
Revenue from the machines is shared by the state, municipalities and the bar owner.
Nearby municipalities, such as Cary, Fox River Grove, Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, and Woodstock, all allow video gambling.
Nino Hermes, owner of the Fire Bar and Grill, has said he even wishes he could de-annex and then have his business annexed to Lake in the Hills.
The business owners say they’re working to be more educated and better prepared the next time they formally approach the City Council.
“We’re looking to get a fair shake,” Hermes said. “Every time we go in front of the city, it feels like a dictatorship, and they don’t want to hear us.”
Hermes added that the video gambling terminals look like electronic dart boards or a juke box.
Kim Spence, owner of the Brink Street Bar and Grill, said all she wants is a chance to have a level playing field with other bars.
She said she would use any extra revenue from the machines to pay for renovations or repairs at her business.
“As bar owners, we would use local businesses to do repairs,” Spence said.
She said having the machines would allow her to reinvestment in Brink Street Bar and Grill.
“When the recession hit, our businesses took one of the big hits,” Spence said. “We are a luxury item. We are constantly having to play catch-up.”
“All we’re asking [is] to be on a level playing field with every community surrounding us, to have the opportunity to give raises and make improvements,” Spence said.
Paul Leech, the owner of The Cottage, said that if he were allowed to have video gambling, he would use the revenue to help offset the cost of repaving his parking lot, a project expected to cost $22,000 to $23,000.
He said he also would use local contractors, who are likely to spend that money locally as well.
Leech said he believes most people in town wouldn’t care if video gambling is allowed. He wants a survey to be done or a referendum to take place.
“I’m quite prepared to accept a massive outcry against it,” Leech said. “It’s not happened.”
“If there was a vote [and] 60 [percent] or 70 percent didn’t want it, I would live with it,” he added.
Leech said the city is giving up a potential revenue source, as Crystal Lake would receive a cut of gambling revenue and could charge a permit fee for each machine.
If there are concerns about the perceptions of gambling, the city can prohibit the use of signs to promote the activity, Leech said. To prevent video gambling cafés from opening, Leech suggested having businesses wait two years after opening before they can have video gambling.
He said businesses should have 60 percent of sales come from food.
The group of owners intends to approach the City Council again, but when has yet to be determined.
“These machines would not be in cities if people didn’t want to play them,” Leech said. “You can’t stop people from how they want to spend money.”
Mayor Aaron Shepley, who has said he believes video gambling would not be in the best interest of the community, said he doesn’t think there is any way he would change his position, and that the council wouldn’t budge on the issue.
Shepley said he has not heard from any other business owners saying they want video gambling. He added that the business owners calling for the practice to be allowed are good people and he understands why they’re asking.
“It doesn’t mean the City Council needs to allow it,” Shepley said.
He said that members of the City Council are “dialed into the community” and believe they have community’s best interest in mind.
“It’s about Crystal Lake in total and how the City Council perceives what we think our residents want,” Shepley said.
Rita Pavlin is the area vice president for Lake and McHenry County chapter of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, and co-owns Steve’s Sports Bar, with her husband, Steve, about a mile outside of Antioch.
Pavlin helped lead the charge to get video gambling terminals allowed in the unincorporated parts of Lake County. She was in a situation where nearby bars in Antioch had the machines, but her bar couldn’t.
“It was an issue of fairness,” Pavlin said. “We no longer have an issue of is it right or wrong to do gaming; it was here.”
Pavlin said bar owners interested in having video gambling have to stick together and show the community they are standing together on the issue.
Pavlin said there were even petition drives at bars in Lake County.
“You’ve got to prove to them the community does want it,” Pavlin said.
Now that the machines are allowed, she brings in $3,000 a month from video gambling, which covers her insurance and mortgage.
“I don’t have to use my personal money to keep the bar afloat,” Pavlin said.