The Champaign city council will vote Tuesday on whether to increase the maximum number of video gambling terminals allowed at a business from five to the maximum allowed by the state, currently set at six.
CHAMPAIGN — This past fiscal year, gamblers played a whopping $209.9 million on video gaming terminals around Champaign, losing $16.8 million.
Next year, if the city gives its blessing, local players could have even more machines to try their luck at.
Tonight, Champaign council members will vote on whether to expand the number of terminals allowed in a business from five to the maximum municipalities can allow under state law, currently set at six.
The city’s cut of the $16.8 million in fiscal 2019 amounted to $840,000, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. Adding the extra machines could generate another $13,000 annually from fees alone, based on the $250 per-terminal fee Champaign charges.
At a study session on the issue last month, Pia’s and Bentley’s co-owner Eric Meyer spoke in support of adding terminals. Of the roughly 60 businesses with video gambling terminals, he estimated, about 40 would go from five to six if allowed.
“Our success is your success,” he said, citing the 5.5-percent share of terminal income that the city receives, on top of the fees.
The proposal received some pushback at the time, with District 4 councilman Greg Stock saying: “I’ll probably vote no on this.”
“I’m always concerned about the social impact on our city with the amount of gambling that is being lost,” he said. “I have heard stories from people who were evicted from their houses, who are seeking assistance for food for their families because they have literally gambled away their check as soon as they get them.
“Yes, it’s good for the city coffers, but I’m not sure that it’s good for the city’s citizens, which I think is why we’re here.”
At-large councilman Tom Bruno doesn’t see a need to cap the number of terminals, saying people should be able to spend their money as they like.
“The chairs are full, maybe, because a lot of our citizens enjoy spending their money in this manner. They take some pleasure out of the unexpected ‘Maybe I’ll hit a jackpot,’” Bruno said. “I don’t think spending your money to gamble is any different than spending it to go to a movie or spending it to go to a hair or nail salon or on fancy hubcaps for your car.
“There’s a lot of different ways people choose to spend their money that give them pleasure. Some people golf.”
Bruno sees expanding the number of terminals as a “freedom issue.”
“I wouldn’t have a cap on the number of terminals a business could have, just like I wouldn’t have a cap on the number of griddles a hamburger joint could have to make hamburgers,” Bruno said. “If the public demands them, so be it.”
The new state law also increases the maximum wager from $2 to $4, increases the maximum cash award from $500 to $1,199, and allows jackpots of up to $10,000.
Those changes don’t require action by the city, though Meyer said he’s waiting on a software update that needs to be signed off on by the state.
“None of those are operational in the state at all,” he said.