About 25 Aurora bar and restaurant owners got what they wanted from the Aurora City Council Tuesday night as the council voted 10-2 to allow video gambling at establishments with liquor licenses.
The decision means 98 Aurora businesses are eligible to apply for state and city permission to operate up to five video gaming machines that can pay out a maximum of $500 at a time.
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"We need this to keep our bars and our restaurants and our fraternal clubs open," said Aurora resident Denese Thulin, speaking on behalf of owners gathered at the meeting.
Restaurant owners like Mike Siddon, who owns Mike and Denise's Pizzeria Pub at 1760 N. Farnsworth Ave., say offering the machines will give them a competitive edge, as well as a boost from a percentage of the revenue each machine generates.
"More people will come to eat, drink, not just to gamble," Siddon said. "People will come to our establishments here instead of going to other towns."
The city also expects a financial boost from video gaming. If half of the eligible businesses apply for licenses at $100 a machine, the city stands to bring in $550,000 a year.
Video gambling was legalized in 2009, and municipalities across the state are now deciding whether to allow it in their communities because the Illinois Gaming Board has developed an electronic system to monitor the activity.
Towns around Aurora are split on the issue, with Geneva, North Aurora, Sugar Grove and Yorkville approving video gaming, and Batavia, Montgomery, Naperville, Oswego and St. Charles banning it.
Aldermen Rick Lawrence and Stephanie Kifowit voted against allowing video gaming machines at Aurora establishments.
"We need to look at more creative ways to stimulate business," Kifowit said. "We should support small businesses through incentives rather than resort to video gambling."
Three of seven public speakers said they opposed video gaming and doubted its ability to help the city's economy, saying it may entice low-income people to waste money that could be better spent on food or other necessities.
"This is not the way to improve the image of Aurora or in the end help with the economic development of these establishments," resident Fran Shaw said.
But Alderman-at-Large Richard Irvin said it would be hypocritical for Aurora, home to the 41,400-square-foot Hollywood Casino, to restrict video gambling. The city relies on tax revenue it receives from the casino and could further benefit from video gaming revenue. He said he knows excessive gambling can cause negative consequences such as addiction, but the same is true with other legal activities such as drinking or smoking cigarettes.
"I will not vote to prevent video gambling here in this city," Irvin said before the council voted to approve gaming and set the yearly license fee.