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Crystal Lake bars push for video gambling

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 10:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 12:15 a.m. CDT
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Lathan Goumas - lgoumas@shawmedia.com A sign hangs about the entrance to Hermann's Rest-a-While Bar and Grill in Port Barrington.

CRYSTAL LAKE – While taking a slightly softer stance, the Crystal Lake City Council reaffirmed its stance against video gambling despite pleas from business owners saying competitors in surrounding cities are gaining an edge.

Representatives from The Cottage, Fire Bar and Grill and Georgio's Pizza asked council members to consider allowing video gaming because nearly every other surrounding area including Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, Woodstock, Huntley and others have allowed it.

Nino Hermes, co-owner of Fire Bar and Grill, said nearby Moretti's in Lake in the Hills has taken more customers because of two competitive advantages: longer hours for alcohol sales and video gaming.

The revenue from video gaming has allowed the establishment to renovate, keep prices lower and pay employees extra, Hermes said.

Brian Coli, of Georgio's Pizza, said he would not have supported video gaming in the past, but he has noticed how it has hurt his business. He said he lost one employee to a competitor that was able to pay $1 an hour more because of additional revenue.

"I don't want to be in the video gaming business," he said. "But [those businesses] are able to do a lot of things with their profits that we aren't able to do."

Business owners found support from council members Ellen Brady Mueller and Cameron Hubbard, who said the city's businesses should have the same access to revenue streams as surrounding competitors.

"We're truly sacrificing our businesses here," Mueller said.

Mayor Aaron Shepley and council members Ralph Dawson and Jeff Thorsen said they had not changed their minds and believe keeping the ban was best for the community.

Shepley said while businesses may lose out on some revenue opportunities, he did not believe banning video gaming would cause an exodus of existing customers.

"I don't think what they do is really any reason to do the same thing," Shepley said of copying surrounding communities. "It is our obligation to legislate for the general welfare of the community."

The City Council denied video gambling in May 2012, voicing concern about the damage it could do to the city's character and potential to create gambling addictions among residents.

At the time, it was estimated the city would collect between $132,762 and $170,694 in gambling revenue per year, according to a city report based on figures from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The video gambling expansion – allowed at bars, truck stops and fraternal and veterans clubs – was initially approved to help fund a $31 billion state capital bill for construction projects.

From September 2012 through August 2013, people have inserted $614 million into video gaming terminals across the state. So far, $438 million has been cashed out to gamblers.

The rest of the money, about $175.7 million, has been split among the owners of the establishments with terminals, video gaming operators, the state and municipalities where video gambling is allowed.

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