WOODSTOCK – The city of Woodstock has tightened restrictions on video gaming terminals after a City Council member and residents’ concern, but some business owners said the machines are needed to stay competitive.
The council has reduced the availability of video gaming licenses after a long discussion on the topic at a recent meeting. The city in 2017 limited the number of video gaming to 30 and now the terminals are capped at 25. There are 20 businesses that offer gaming and one application is pending, according to city documents.
“As we have worked with that over the last year and as opportunities have come forward, I think there has been a general consensus that we could reduce [the original limit],” Mayor Brian Sager said.
Business owners who want to offer video gambling must first get a liquor license. After they have a liquor license, the state of Illinois can grant the video gaming license. In Woodstock, the business has to come back before the City Council to obtain a license.
Residents have protested the comings of restaurants that want liquor licenses because they fear it will act as a gateway to more gambling and problematic behavior, particularly on Woodstock’s Square.
“I am concerned about the health of our community,” resident Molly Oakford said. “$5 million was taken out of our local economy last year. $5 million that could have been used toward consumer goods and services.”
Revenue – or the “net wagering activity” – from the machines is split among the municipality, state, the operator and the retailer. People gambled a little more than $57 million in Woodstock establishments in 2017 and won back a little more than $52.3 million. The net total for the year then was $4.7 million and the city’s share was $236,583.
Woodstock isn’t the only McHenry County municipality that has sought to limit gaming within its boundaries. Marengo city officials have long expressed trepidation when it comes to allowing gambling and has turned down several proposals that included gaming in the plans. Gaming cafes are banned in Algonquin, and Huntley in 2016 placed a moratorium on new businesses that would allow gambling.
But some business owners have seen the need for the machines increase as the years go by. Edgardo Urbina, who owns La Placita Taqueria in Woodstock and La Placita Taqueria 2 in Marengo, recently put gaming machines in the Woodstock location after long saying he didn’t want to bring the machines in.
“The main reason was to generate a little extra income,” he said. “Obviously it’s a big industry. A lot of people make a lot of money.”
Urbina said the machines haven’t brought in as much extra revenue as he had hoped. Typically, someone will either come in and play for 10 to 15 minutes before leaving or throw a couple of dollars in while waiting for a take-out order, he said.
He said that he hasn’t noticed any problems with troublemakers or negative feedback and plans to market the machines more in 2018.
“We’re a family restaurant, so it’s harder for people to walk in and play,” he said. “The guy across the street has [gaming] The guy next door has [gaming]. Why not us?”
Woodstock Police Chief John Lieb said that he hasn’t seen any connection to gaming terminals and an increase in criminal behavior at Woodstock businesses.
“I cannot recall any recent police reports that investigated criminal behavior with gaming machines being directly attributed to the incident,” Lieb said. “Also, I cannot recall any telephone or personal conversations since being appointed as chief of police with any Woodstock citizens regarding concerns directly attributed to gaming machines.”
He said that while excessive drinking is a factor in many calls for service, there isn’t a real difference between places that do or don’t offer gambling.
“Over the years, Woodstock police officers have responded to a vast variety of calls at bar and restaurant establishments,” Lieb said. “In comparing current trends to past years, the bar-going patrons of today are, for the most part, socially peaceful with only limited occasions when police action is necessary.”