Urbana council OKs new liquor license for grocery store looking to add gambling terminals

Urbana council OKs new liquor license for grocery store looking to add gambling terminals

URBANA — City council members reignited a debate on video gambling Monday as they considered upgrading a liquor license for a local grocery store that is looking to add video-gambling machines to bolster its narrow profit margins.

The request came from Save-A-Lot, 220 N. Broadway Ave., which currently holds a Class C liquor license. In order to be able to install up to five video-gambling terminals, the store, owned by Niemann Foods Inc., needs to upgrade to Class A — a "pour" license allowing consumption of liquor inside the store — and apply for a Class G-1 license allowing the terminals.

Aldermen approved the upgrade to Class A by a vote of 4-2, with one reluctant "yes" coming from Eric Jakobsson, who said he didn't know how he'd vote during the discussion.

One the one hand, he said, "you can win or lose as much as several hundred dollars at a shop quite easily," and people are going to lose more often than they're going to win, so "I'm troubled by the whole thing; by somebody possibly losing rent money in an evening." But on the other hand, he said he saw the need some business owners have to introduce new revenue sources.

"One of the compelling things to me is what we've heard here: that we have people who are working with businesses that have small profit margins — like liquor stores and restaurants," Jakobsson said. "That can make the difference between someone having their bar or their club or their restaurant in Urbana or in Champaign."

Alderman Dean Hazen said his "yes" vote was tied to the business side of things, not his own opinions on gambling.

"I really struggled with this and I've been thinking about it since last week," Hazen said. "I've worked in gaming two times in my life, and I don't like it. But I'm not here for my opinion. You deserve the same opportunities as someone else. So out of the interest of being fair and consistent, I have to support this."

Alderman Dennis Roberts, who voted "no," called the vote a "troubling thing."

"I have never really enjoyed supporting the gaming program here in town, even though I understand its part of the economics of running some restaurants and clubs," Roberts said. "I'll support it for clubs and for restaurants, but I don't think I want to support it for a grocery store. I don't think you should buy your cans of beans and have the opportunity to gamble. I've been in Las Vegas for gambling, and there, it's available at every corner. But it's not appealing to me."

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