Danville leery of allowing new gaming cafes
DANVILLE — Before Illinois legalized video gaming machines, the doors to Danville's American Legion were closed three days a week and the post was operating at a loss.
Now, with five gaming machines at Post 210 on Jackson Street, finances are back in the black.
"It has basically kept the doors open for us," said post Commander Tom Morris said.
In the 15 months Post 210 has had video gaming, its five terminals have netted a little more than $153,000, according to Illinois Gaming Board reports.
The state and city have taken 30 percent — or $45,925 — leaving the roughly $107,000 remaining to be divvied up between the Legion and the company from which it leases the terminals.
"Without something like this," he said, "many organizations would be closed."
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said there's no question that social organizations in the city — the Legion, Knights of Columbus, Elks and the VFW, to name a few — are able to provide the services they have because of the revenue they're generating from video gaming.
It's out of concern for those organizations, Eisenhauer said, that the city has not been eager to move toward allowing video gaming cafes, which provide electronic gambling machines in an environment different than bars, taverns and restaurants, and seem to be thriving in other municipalities.
Take Lacy's Place, one of the top-grossing video gaming establishments in Champaign. Patrons put nearly $1.7 million into Lacy's five terminals in the last 12 months, according to the gaming board. Lacy's generated $385,735 in net income over that period, with 30 percent going to the state and local municipality and the rest divided between the business owner and terminal provider.
Eisenhauer said Danville has had several inquiries from outside developers who want to open video gaming cafes in the city, so the council's public services committee will discuss possibly creating a new liquor license category to accommodate them at Tuesday's meeting.
Illinois law requires video gaming establishments to serve alcohol for on-site consumption. But, Eisenhauer said, the city's existing liquor license categories are set up for businesses that bring in significant revenue from booze, food or both. Cafes don't have large sales of either, so they wouldn't fit into one of Danville's existing categories.
Eisenhauer said there is no proposal from city administration at this point, and it's up for discussion only.
Eisenhauer said most of the interested developers want to open cafes geared toward women, like Champaign's Lacy's,
Cafes could increase the roughly $11,000-a-month in tax revenue Danville is getting from the 99 terminals spread across the city in 24 different establishments, especially if they attract a segment of the local population — like more women — that may not already be playing terminals at existing sites.
But Eisenhauer said he wonders if patrons now playing at terminals at service organizations would be drawn to new cafes.
At one time, the Urbana American Legion was the highest-grossing video gaming location in the state. Now that there are more options in C-U, and its income has decreased — but only slightly; it still brings in more than $50,000 a month.
Morris doesn't believe cafes would take a chunk of Post 210's business, but fears that might happen at smaller establishments.
"Any time you add more machines, it's bound to take away from (others)," he said. "... I would say, I'm neutral on it. We have our people who are going to come into the Legion, because they like our place."