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Article updated: 10/10/2012 6:48 AM

Video poker now lives across Illinois

By Elena Ferrarin

If you want to play video poker or slots, you can now do so at licensed neighborhood establishments, as video gambling went live Tuesday across Illinois.

Video gaming machines were turned on at 65 licensed locations with 278 video gaming terminals throughout the state, the Illinois Gaming Board said in a news release.

Wayne Krcmar, owner of Hermann's Rest A While in Port Barrington, said he's happy video gambling is a reality, three years after the law was approved. "It's been working very good for me," said Krcmar, whose machines were turned on last month as part of live testing.

Tony Patti, manager of Rosati's Pizza in Lakemoor, was waiting for the establishment's machines to go live Tuesday afternoon. "They told us they should be turned on by end of the day. If they are not on by end of the day, then something's wrong," he said. "We're excited. We're getting more and more customers asking about it."

Gaming Board spokesman Gene O'Shea said he heard another establishment in Springfield was experiencing delays; however, he said, the system was working properly and any problems were due to the operators.

So far, video gambling licenses have been approved for 324 eateries and taverns, 12 truck stops, four veterans groups and one fraternal organization throughout Illinois, O'Shea said. More licensed locations will become operational as operators continue to install terminals in licensed locations, he said. Only 29 operators, out of 72 licensed, have had their financing approved by the gaming board.

The Video Gaming Act was enacted in July 2009. Many towns in the suburbs, however, outlaw video gambling, which is also banned in unincorporated parts of Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties.

The state receives 30 percent of the net terminal income, with 5 percent of that going to the local government that issued the liquor license. New York-based Scientific Games, which operates the system for Illinois, receives 0.7275 percent of the remaining 70 percent, while the rest is split between the operator and the location.

The Gaming Board is processing applications for more than 2,600 other locations.

Lawmakers approved video gambling in 2009 to help fund a $31 billion construction program to fix schools, roads, bridges and other projects, and estimated at the time that it would raise about $375 million a year for the state. A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn did not immediately respond to a request for updated projections Tuesday.

Jeff Glover, manager of Chino's Pizzeria in the Chicago suburb of Justice, said he'd just finished mopping when he saw the restaurant's three terminals activated around 11:30 a.m.

"I threw $5 in there and it played normal," said Glover, adding that customers have been frustrated after months of waiting. "Once word gets out that these are on, it should be really busy."

Patrons at The Assembly American Bar & Cafe in Hoffman Estates have been able to play on its five machines for two weeks because the eatery was a test site, as the state worked out any kinks, owner Gary Taylor said.

He said the machines have been popular, but he doubts they will bring in as much revenue as terminal operators and the state have projected. The state will get 25 percent and local municipalities 5 percent of net income after winnings are paid. The other 70 percent is split by the business owners and the companies that operate the machines.

"A lot of the people we've seen are playing penny or nickel slots," said Taylor, who said one customer did win the maximum prize -- $500 for a $2 bet -- over the weekend. "We don't see it as any huge income but it's great entertainment for guests before or after meals."

The 65 locations announced Tuesday have a total of 278 video gambling terminals. Gambling officials have estimated that up to 75,000 machines could be installed statewide within a year.

Gambling officials said 633 cities and counties have enacted ordinances to allow video gambling, and several had to reverse bans on video gambling to take advantage of the potential new revenue. Hundreds of communities still prohibit the practice. Opposition largely has come from church groups that question how much revenue the machines will bring and worry about the social cost.

Lynn Morris, CEO of Morris Gaming, which supplies terminals to businesses, said the process of implementing video gambling has been slow but that "everyone's ... over the moon after three years of hard work."

Shortly after the law was passed, Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz sued the state over higher taxes in the legislation to pay for the construction program. That lawsuit questioned the legality of video gambling, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional.

Then there were errors in the contract bidding process and the Gaming Board claimed staffing shortages.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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