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Marengo, Lake in the Hills surprised by gas station gambling ruling

Marengo, LITH surprised by gas station gaming ruling

Store manager Pragash Shah helps a customer Thursday at the Grove Mart in Lake in the Hills. Lake in the Hills and Marengo officials are currently working to come up with a plan on how to handle video gaming inside gas stations. A review of Illinois Gaming Board data reveals that many gas stations across the state have been awarded video gaming licenses under the truck stop criteria.
Store manager Pragash Shah helps a customer Thursday at the Grove Mart in Lake in the Hills. Lake in the Hills and Marengo officials are currently working to come up with a plan on how to handle video gaming inside gas stations. A review of Illinois Gaming Board data reveals that many gas stations across the state have been awarded video gaming licenses under the truck stop criteria.

LAKE IN THE HILLS – An Illinois Gaming Board decision that granted a Lake in the Hills gas station permission to use video gaming machines and allow customers to play the electronic slots surprised village officials.

Officials were startled to learn that the Gaming Board, in its license approval, considered the gas station – located miles away from the nearest interstate – a truck stop.

Marengo officials are also grappling with a proposal from a Shell station that wants to allow customers to consume alcohol on-site. The move would make the gas station eligible for the same video gaming license the state’s gaming authority has awarded to numerous bars and restaurants.

“When you think of a truck stop, you think of something next to the interstate,” said Lake in the Hills Village Administrator Gerald Sagona. “There’s much more to it than just three acres and 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel.”

In the two years since video gaming began in Illinois, the gambling devices have cropped up in places lawmakers never intended, including floral shops, laundromats and liquor stores.

In the county, officials in Lake in the Hills and Marengo are trying to process how gas stations could legally have video gaming machines.

Unlike the Marengo proposal, the Grove Mart station in Lake in the Hills doesn’t need a license to pour alcohol to have the machines, since the Gaming Board determined it was a truck stop, Sagona said.

Typically located near interstates and busy state highways, truck stops often rest on multiple acres and contain numerous amenities to help road-weary commercial drivers recharge and refuel their big rigs.

Under the video gaming law, the state defines a truck stop as a business that owns or leases at least three acres and sells at least 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month. Aside from its fuel sales, the Grove Mart rests on three acres, meeting the minimum requirement.

The sales threshold is well below the national average. U.S. gas stations with diesel on average sell 17,100 gallons of the fuel a month, according to the NACS, a national trade association for convenience stores and gas stations.

Despite the state’s approval, the Lake in the Hills board tabled the Grove Mart request because trustees wanted the owners to better screen the machines. The board will again discuss the issue during a committee meeting Tuesday, Sagona said.

Marengo police needed additional time to research the Shell station proposal and assess how other communities have handled similar requests.

Beyond the county, an equestrian center in Willowbrook, southwest of Chicago, receives $1,750 a month in profit from its three video gaming machines.

A scuba shop and laundromat in Loves Park in Winnebago County, a florist in south suburban Oak Lawn, and an apartment complex in downstate Champaign are among the 4,570 businesses in Illinois with video gaming machines, according to the Gaming Board.

An outspoken critic of the gambling law, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he tried to warn both county officials and statehouse representatives that the video-gaming bill lawmakers passed in 2009 would lead to widespread and unintended use.

Looking to help bankroll the state’s $31 billion infrastructure plan, lawmakers legalized video gambling to allow bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations, veterans clubs and truck stops to have the slot-style machines.

Truck stops, which are the only businesses that can operate the machines 24 hours, are among the top gaming earners since the law took effect, according to Gaming Board data.

The legalization overall has generated $210.8 million in revenue for the cash-strapped state government and $42.2 million for local governments on more than $3 billion in wagered cash, according to state figures.

With routine gas stations in the county now using the machines, lawmakers should re-examine the 2009 law to better regulate video gaming, Franks said.

“I don’t think this reflects who we are as a society in McHenry County. I don’t believe our morals and values are ones that support gambling at every corner and at every town in our county,” Franks said. “Oftentimes, there are unintended consequences of laws that the legislature have to remedy, and this is clearly one of those times.”

A chief sponsor behind the video-gaming bill also has said that the spread of the machines into unlikely businesses isn’t what he had in mind.

“It was never our intention to turn florists’ shops into places for gambling,” Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told the Associated Press. “And so, it’s something that needs to be looked at, for sure.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

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