PLACE YOUR BETS
By BEN ZIGTERMAN
CHAMPAIGN — Beginning at 9 a.m. today, video-gambling machines at establishments around the state will be turned on for the first time since March 16, when they were shut down because of the coronavirus.
Of course, that’s assuming all goes smoothly, which isn’t a take-it-to-the-bank bet.
“We’ve been told, as licensees, not to call our terminal operators until 12:30 if the machines fail to turn on,” said Pia’s and Bentley’s co-owner Eric Meyer. “That’s primarily because they want to give the state enough time to turn things on.”
Terminal operators had to submit plans to the state gambling board for how they plan to safely resume operation.
Under the new pandemic rules, terminals must be 6 feet apart or have barriers between them.
At Pia’s and Bentley’s, gamblers can expect 3-foot-by-4-foot plastic panels separating players, Meyer said.
“There’s only one person allowed per seat location in the gaming area,” Meyer said. “And there’s specific rules associated with the gaming area: Masks have to be worn; each area has to be cleaned immediately with each new player, including the screens, plastic barriers, seats, all of that.” And he said there will be extra masks for players and a wastebasket specifically for personal protective equipment. There will also be hand sanitizers for the players.
Meyer said he’s not sure whether people will feel comfortable playing the machines indoors.
“What we’ve experienced with reopening the inside already, 90 percent or better of the crowd still wants to be outside,” he said. “There might be a little reluctance from our patrons to be in enclosed areas.”
But he said restaurants could use the extra income.
“Even though we partially reopened … in many cases, the sales volume prior to COVID-19, we’ve not been able to regain all of that,” Meyer said.
Before the machines were shut off, gamblers in Champaign lost $4.19 million playing the terminals, with about $210,000 going to the city, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.
Last year through May, $7.51 million had been lost by gamblers, with about $375,000 going to the city.