After an 18-month trial period, video gambling appears to be here to stay in St. Charles.
In a preliminary 6-3 vote last week, aldermen supported indefinitely extending an ordinance that legalizes video gambling in the city. The measure, if ratified by the city council this month, eliminates a sunset clause that would have kicked in April 30.
Video gambling machines began popping up in city establishments in September 2016, almost a year after Mayor Ray Rogina broke a tie vote to lift the city's video gambling ban. Police Chief James Keegan said 13 license-holders now operate 55 machines in the city, and applications are pending for three more establishments.
With no violations or related crimes reported so far, some aldermen said they see no reason to end a program that also helps local businesses remain competitive. Among them was Alderman Steve Gaugel, who was originally on the opposing side of the discussion.
"After this program has been in place now for (almost) two years, I think it's been managed well," he said. "I think we would be doing more harm than good by removing it at this point."
The three aldermen who cast dissenting votes say their viewpoints haven't changed since before the city legalized video gambling. If anything, Alderman Rita Payleitner says her moral opposition is stronger than ever.
"I strongly feel no dollar amount brought in by video gambling to the city can justify the detriment brought to even one family in St. Charles," she said.
Aldermen Maureen Lewis and Ron Silkaitis also voted no, with Silkaitis saying he doesn't believe the gambling machines are right for St. Charles.
As of January, video gambling generated about $2.4 million in net taxable income for the establishments that have the machines, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. Of a 30 percent tax on those profits, the state collected $595,354, and $119,070 went into the city's coffers.
For Bob Karas, video gambling revenue has helped his 10 local restaurants stay afloat, he said. His family owns Rookies All American Pub & Grill and Alexander's Cafe locations in St. Charles and other nearby towns, as well as a handful of Village Squire restaurants.
The Rookies at 1545 W. Main St. is in need of some upgrades, Karas said, noting he intends to purchase the property. Those investments wouldn't be possible if the video gambling revenue is lost.
"We definitely wouldn't survive without it at this point," he said.
Representatives from Alley 64 and the St. Charles Moose Lodge also told aldermen the gambling machines generate business and allow them some flexibility to give back to the community.
However, Payleitner said legalizing video gambling isn't good for the city's image, despite regulations limiting signage and advertising. Unlike with drinking and drugs, she said, there aren't any laws in place to prevent "over-gambling."
Alderman Art Lemke said the city council can reevaluate the video gambling ordinance if problems arise in the future.