Businesses ready to take a gamble
As business owners continue struggling to fill the seats of their restaurants and pubs, many see the promised economic boost of video gaming machines as a must.
“When they tell you you could make $75,000 in additional money, I have no reason not to do it,” said John Macrito, owner of Corkscrew Pointe in McHenry. “Even if I make half of that, that’s more than I’m making now.”
The gambling machines cleared by the state in July 2009 have been going through a town-by-town examination during the last few months. Just which McHenry County communities will be allowing the machines is still shaking out, but many area business owners already have entered into agreements with terminal operators of the machines, even before knowing whether they’ll ultimately be able to place them.
After a 30-percent tax, establishments with the video gaming terminals split their profits 50-50 with the terminal operators. Since the terminal operators place, maintain and regulate the machines at no cost to the establishment, there’s a significant financial upside for restaurant and bar owners.
“We’re all barely just surviving,” Macrito said. “Anything you can do that’s going to help the bottom line, I have no reason not to try.”
Macrito will have to wait until at least July before he knows whether or not he’ll be allowed to put video gaming into his restaurant. The machines are scheduled to be discussed by a McHenry finance committee this week, and could go to the council next month.
Crystal Lake became the most recent community to ban the machines at a June 5 City Council meeting. Council members raised concerns about how the machines might change the character of the city. They also discussed gambling addiction.
Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said the Woodstock council addressed the machines in workshop sessions, but ultimately decided that they would not move to change ordinances currently in place which ban gambling in bars and restaurants. He declined to comment on why.
He said there’s been “no strong push” from local businesses to put in the machines, but the city has had some inquiries.
Valerie Hellyer, owner of Creekside Tap in Algonquin, said she’s already signed on with a terminal operator to place three video gaming machines in her downtown Algonquin bar. The state allows a maximum of five.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Creekside Tap to make some more money and for downtown Algonquin to bring some more people into downtown Algonquin,” she said.
Hellyer said she would not expect the machines to change the type of crowd at her restaurant, but rather to add “another layer.”
“I think our current customers will love it but I also think it will bring in some new folks,” she said. “Maybe some people that like to go to the riverboat, but it’s too far to go.”
Hellyer might or might not get the chance to find out. At this point, Algonquin is operating at “status quo” under its current gambling prohibition ordinance.
“That’s news to me,” Hellyer said.
Michael Kumbera, assistant to the village manager, said that could change if businesses came forward that wanted the board to take action.
“As more information comes into us, and the process moves along, it’s something we could consider in the future,” he said.
Jeff Battaglia, owner of Riverview Restaurant & Tavern in Algonquin, also would jump at the chance to put the gambling machines in his business.
Battaglia said he’s not concerned that the machines would change the family atmosphere at his restaurant because they’d be located in the separated bar area.
“Generally, the people with young people, they’re not going to sit in the bar area, they’re going to sit in the dining room,” he said.
“Things are tough for small businesses,” Battaglia added. “So in all actuality, another source of revenue is always good to help pay some rent or anything else.”