Brookfield village trustees are poised to reverse a ban on video gambling devices that has been on the books for two decades, now that the Illinois Gaming Board has begun accepting applications for the devices at liquor establishments across the state.
Since the Brookfield Village Board never took action to prohibit the devices in the wake of Gov. Pat Quinn signing a bill to allow video gambling machines in 2009, Brookfield bar owners believed they would be free to go ahead with their applications to the state.
But sitting on the books already was a 1991 law that states, “No cash prizes nor any item of value shall be awarded in conjunction with any amusement device whether within the game area or elsewhere.”
Such a ban could cost local bar owners tens of thousands of dollars in annual revenue and could cost the village more than $100,000 in additional revenue each year, if the ban stays in place.
That means before Brookfield bar owners can apply to have gambling devices that pay out to customers, village officials need to reverse that law.
“I personally don’t think we should opt out of this,” said Village President Michael Garvey. “We should remain in and regulate it appropriately, and treat any revenue that comes in on a cautious basis until it actually starts flowing in.”
Garvey urged trustees to pass an ordinance repealing the village’s ban on gambling devices at their next meeting on April 23. Trustees at that time will also likely continue to discuss refinements for regulating the machines in the village – how many to allow per establishment, licensing requirements and permit fees associated with the machines.
“Our establishments are facing a competitive disadvantage due to this discovery, that our ordinances, which we didn’t really think were prohibiting this, are prohibiting this,” said Garvey.
Other nearby towns allow the video gambling machines and some bar owners fear Brookfield’s establishments will lose business to those other nearby places.
“It does a tremendous amount for us as far as helping us make money here in town,” said Phil Stanton, owner of Phil’s Sports Bar and Grill in Brookfield, who estimated he might be able to make an additional $20,000 to $30,000 per year by having the machines in his business.
“For an establishment like mine, even if my end of the revenue is only $20,000 or $30,000 a year, that’s a substantial amount of revenue,” Stanton said. “It’s not only that revenue that I would lose if we didn’t have it, but I would also lose customers to Lyons, McCook, Berwyn and all these other towns that do it, so I’d also lose some of my drinking revenue and my food revenue.”
According to Brookfield officials, the state has estimated that the village’s cut of the revenue for each gaming device would be about $2,200 annually. The state statute allows up to five of the devices in each establishment – they are allowed in bars/restaurants that have liquor licenses, fraternal organizations and veterans organizations.
Brookfield has about 20 such establishments in town, so even if half have five machines the village could expect upwards of $100,000 in additional revenue each year. The state, meanwhile, will use its cut of the gaming proceeds to fund capital projects throughout Illinois.
But Trustee Kit Ketchmark cautioned his colleagues about the projected windfall from future video gambling revenues.
“I don’t think we should make a decision on a potential $100,000-plus in revenue, because as I’m looking at the numbers it just seems so optimistic,” Ketchmark said. “I just think the numbers are just so far out there that we’re not going to see anywhere near those numbers.”
Trustee Michael Towner disagreed, saying he felt the state’s estimates were on the mark, even conservative.
“These are gambling stations … This is how casinos make their money,” said Towner, who is in favor of repealing the video gambling ban on Brookfield’s books. “[The state] know[s] by dealing with casinos for years that those gambling stations are going to bring in X amount of revenue, and that’s a lot of revenue we’re going to be leaving on the table.”
Brookfield resident Frank Clarke questioned whether having gambling machines in bars was a good idea.
“With the economy the way it is, everybody wants to hit the jackpot,” Clarke told trustees. “What would be preventing somebody from going in there and dropping their whole payroll to try to win a jackpot?
Garvey responded that the board “can’t regulate common sense.”
“In the same ways, we don’t or can’t regulate who buys lottery tickets or Mega-Millions tickets, or how much people spend at Bingo.”