THE FIRST PLAYER on the video game terminals at Tuffy’s Lounge was Shirley DiBenedetto, a part-time resident of Shadow Lakes. The terminals at Tuffy’s and Riverfront Lanes went live last Friday. Photo by Pam Monson
Video gaming under new state regulations went live in the city of Wilmington last Friday.
According to the Illinois Gaming Board, four Wilmington establishments are licensed to provide video gaming. Three of those establishments; Big Fish Bar and Grill in rural Wilmington, and Tuffy's Lounge and Riverfront Lanes in the city limits, now have active devices. The fourth, The Rustic, has received its machines and is waiting for a technician from the Gaming Board to connect them.
The Wilmington City Council amended the city code of ordinances in June to permit the use of video gaming devices in licensed establishments, deferring to a statewide statutory authority. Gambling and wagering are still prohibited in the city limits, but an exception was created for video gaming devices for which a licensed entity such as a bar or veterans club has obtained a state license pursuant to the Video Gaming Act.
The Act, administered by the Illinois Gaming Board, became law in 2009. It authorizes the installation of up to five licensed video gaming terminals in licensed establishments where liquor is served for consumption on the premises, as well as in licensed fraternal establishments, licensed veterans establishments and licensed truck stops.
The video gaming terminals are monitored by the IGB through a central communications system created and managed by Scientific Games Corporation. The system provides real time communication with and control over every licensed video gaming terminal in Illinois. The maximum payout is $500, and the machines do not record the identification of the winner.
It took more than two years for the IGB to develop the rules and regulations for video gaming, to seek out a vendor to manage the communications system, create and implement an application process and begin monitoring the installation of the gaming devices.
Don Jennings, the manager of Donaco Gaming in Morris, and the terminal operator managing the machine's at Tuffy's and Riverfront Lanes, said the state is understaffed, and has only five teams traveling the state trying to get licensees online. They had expected to connect 140 each week, but are progressing at a pace of about 40.
"It's been a slow process and it's going to be a slow process. It will take years to get it all up and running," Jennings said.
The terminal operator installs the gaming equipment in the establishment, and is responsible for maintaining the machines. The operator also manages all of the cash handling, including payout transactions through an automated vault.
Tuffy's owner, Ralph "Tuffy" Stevens, who also represents the region on the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, holds one of the first licenses issued in Wilmington. He removed his video poker machines more than one year ago, ahead of the state regulations.
Tuffy received his license in September after a rigorous and exacting application process that took about one year to complete and included a background check and interview. Since then, he has been waiting to get his game terminals online with the state.
Game day finally came Friday. Donaco installed the vaults that will dispense cash won at the video gaming devices, as well as a terminal that will read the winning tickets the video games print out. There were problems with two of Tuffy's three terminals; but between the technicians from Donaco, Scientific Games and the IGB, who spent the day setting things straight, all three terminals were online with the state and active by the end of the day.
Tuffy's, Riverfront and Big Fish each have three game terminals. Tuffy said that if all goes well with the first three, he'll add more. Tuffy has already heard of bugs in the communication system, and it may take some time to get things working smoothly.
Income generated from the terminals is divided between the state, the city, the terminal operator, the location and Scientific Games. The state receives 30 percent of the net income generated from each licensed terminal. From the state portion, the city will receive 5 percent. The state's gaming agent, Scientific Games, gets .73 percent of the remaining 70 percent, for building and maintaining the central communication system. The rest of the net income is divided equally between the terminal operator and the location. Tuffy expects the popularity of the games to wear off, but hopes they'll generate enough to pay a couple of bills. If nothing else, they give his customers something to do.
Six more Wilmington establishments have applications pending; including The Corner Tap, Freakster's, Hayden's Crossing, Snookers Sports Bar and Grill, Wilmington Lodge 241 of the Loyal Order of the Moose, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Malcolm J. Mayo Post 5422.
One Elwood business is licensed, and another business' license is pending the IGB's approval process.
The IGB is currently processing video gaming location license applications from 2,223 establishments, 127 fraternal organizations, 198 veterans organizations and 66 truck stops. Each applicant undergoes a background check as part of the licensing process.
The Illinois Gaming Board does not have jurisdiction over "amusement only" devices.