Aldermen to consider capping video gambling licenses in Batavia

  • Batavia aldermen are expected to consider placing a cap on the number of video gambling licenses allowed in town.

      Batavia aldermen are expected to consider placing a cap on the number of video gambling licenses allowed in town. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/5/2020 7:58 PM

A proposal to cap the number of video gambling licenses in Batavia is expected to be up for debate this month.

The idea was brought forward this week by Alderman Joe Knopp and supported by a handful of his colleagues who said they want to halt the expansion of video gambling throughout the city. The machines are currently allowed at six businesses, including the Batavia Overseas VFW Post 1197, the Speedway gas station and some restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The intent wouldn't be to eliminate video gambling or cut off that revenue source for existing licensees, Knopp said, but rather to set a "hard limit ... so that it doesn't become a more widespread business standard for our downtown area," he said.

But other city officials oppose the cap idea, saying the prospect of a video gambling license serves as an economic incentive for new establishments.

"I feel that this is a tool we provide to potential business owners," Alderman Jennifer Baerren said. "I don't think we should be telling business owners that have a restaurant or a bar how they should be running their business."

Batavia was among the towns that opted out of allowing video gambling when Illinois legalized it in 2009. Aldermen revisited the issue several times before the city lifted its ban in 2016.

The existing ordinance has been structured to deter slot machine cafes or other establishments where video gambling is the primary focus, City Administrator Laura Newman said.

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Bars and restaurants, for example, must hold a liquor license for at least a year before they can seek a gambling license. Each operator also has to pay an annual location permit fee of $1,500, which Newman says is high compared to most municipalities.

Those requirements provide enough of a barrier to weed out the unwanted gambling parlors, Mayor Jeff Schielke said, while still allowing established businesses to take advantage of the additional revenue.

"I think that leaving the ordinance the way it is would be our best move," he said, adding that restricting the number of licenses could "discourage some new restaurant businesses from moving into Batavia."

As one of the council's most vocal video gambling opponents, Alderman Mark Uher said he would support banning any new licenses. Existing licenses would expire whenever the operator goes out of business or is sold, eventually eliminating the machines altogether.

Setting a cap offers a bit more leeway, he said, but would still cause officials to think twice before issuing a new license.

Uher directed staff members to draft a proposal setting a six-license limit in Batavia. Aldermen are expected to consider the measure during a June 16 committee meeting.

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