PORT BARRINGTON – Three to four times a week, Ron Thornton, 44, of Oakwood Hills, sits in front of a video gaming terminal to play video poker at Hermann’s Rest A While in Port Barrington with about $100 to $200 to deposit into the machine.
“When I’m winning, I’m coming more,” Thornton said.
On one day, he had two hands where he hit the maximum prize of $500, along with an additional turn where he won a $250 prize.
When he was done playing, Thornton printed a receipt from the terminal for $1,200.
“I was on fire,” Thornton said. “There was no doubt about it, it was my best day ever.”
Since video gambling went live throughout the state last October, however, Thornton says he’s not ahead.
“You can’t win in the long run,” Thornton said. “You’re just going to lose if you play a lot. It’s built into the system.”
For the past year, video gambling has served as a revenue source for the state’s 2009 Illinois Jobs Now! capital program. When including the state’s three-week testing period in September 2012 through the month of August, people have spent $614 million on the video gaming terminals. Of that, $438 million was returned to gamblers in winnings.
The rest of the money, about $175.7 million, has been split among the owners of the establishments with terminals, video gaming operators, the state, and municipalities where video gambling is allowed.
The village of Barrington is considering whether to allow video gaming within village limits. The village passed an ordinance to ban video gaming when the Illinois Video Gaming Act was passed in 2009, but its board of trustees has been accepting public input on the issue the past few months.
A vote on it originally was expected Oct. 14, but Barrington Village President Karen Darch said that too many trustees were absent from the meeting to make an official decision.
Back at Hermann’s Rest-A-While Bar and Grill, there are five video gambling terminals, the maximum allowed for an establishment by the state. Broken Oar is a second location in Port Barrington with video gaming.
Hermann’s was one of the test locations for the state before the gaming board went live with video gambling in places that serve alcohol, truck stops and fraternal and veterans establishments.
For bar owner Wayne Krcmar, the five terminals have been a financial windfall.
Since September of last year, his bar has brought in $75,000 from video gambling.
“I absolutely love it,” Krcmar said. “It’s wonderful; there’s never been a hassle, no problems.”
The money, which Krcmar keeps in a separate account from revenue for food and drinks, has helped pay for a new roof on his building, a walk-in cooler and beer vending system, a flat-screen television behind the bar, and new flooring, he said.
Those investments cost about $17,000. He also used the money to pay his property-tax bill this year.
“Any cities that don’t have it should have it,” Krcmar said. “It hasn’t brought in riffraff, and we haven’t had any problems. It’s an asset.”
More and more establishments are looking to add terminals. As of Sept. 20, more than 1,800 places around the state have applications pending with the Illinois Gaming Board. The owners of those establishments have to go through criminal background checks and get fingerprinted, said Gene O’Shea, spokesman for the gaming board.
Marcy Paschky, the bar manager at Hermann’s, said the terminals serve as entertainment for the customers. She said there are people from towns that don’t have video gambling who come to Hermann’s.
“The people who want to gamble are finding a place to do it,” Paschky said. “Apparently people had money, they’re paying it in. ... They’re liking this. They’re coming out to do it.”
Bars and restaurants also have to compete for customers’ food and drink dollars.
“People aren’t out as much, [and] aren’t drinking as much when they are out,” Paschky said. “You have to do more and more to draw them in. Hire a band, hire a karaoke. Things cost more and more to get them in the door.”
The amount of money being generated from gambling on the video gaming terminals has led to a push this year from business owners in towns where video gambling initially was banned, including Barrington.
The village of Cary also is considering whether to allow video gambling within its borders. The village in 2010 decided to ban the revenue source.
“It was new at the time, we didn’t have any history or data to make a decision on what would be in the best interest for the village of Cary,” said Village President Mark Kownick, who was a trustee at the time. “It was the fear of the unknown.”
Kownick said now he is on the fence about video gaming.
Cary could have six or seven establishments with the terminals if the Village Board decided to permit video gambling, Kownick said. Those establishments have asked the Village Board to reverse its position on video gambling.
“When an establishment wants something, you want to make sure they have everything to help them succeed,” Kownick said. “If our establishments came to us and said, ‘I want to have video gambling to enhance our company, to enhance the draw to my establishment [for] people who are waiting for something to do,’ I would have bought into that a lot sooner.”
Fox River Grove also allows video gaming. The village dedicates its video gambling share toward its tree replacement program, Village Administrator Karl Warwick said.
“It’s something we need with emerald ash borer taking several trees away in the village,” Warwick said.
As for long-term use of the video gambling revenue, the village has yet to decide what to do with the money, Warwick said.