Once opting out, communities now want video gaming

The Grand Victoria casino sits along the Fox River Thursday, March 24, 2005, in Elgin Ill. The state's highest-grossing casino and the last to open in Illinois has poured $250 million into Elgin in tax revenue alone, and the town has been putting that money to use. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

February 7, 2013 2:49:48 PM PST
Video gaming arrived in Illinois with confusing fits and starts. Elgin was one of the largest communities to say, ''no thanks.''

But over the last six months, Elgin bar and restaurant owners say their city has become an island. All their neighbors have what they don't.

"All the surrounding communities have video gaming. West Dundee is the most recent one to have voted yes," Mike Flannagan, Elgin Video Gaming Committee, said.

"I see people going to an establishment down the road that I know and they're playing the machines and these are people that would stay and eat and drink," Diana Lange, Club 58, said.

That loss of business has prompted a change of heart at city hall.

"At the end of the day, if we support one group at the expense of another it becomes a problem," Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said.

The Grand Victoria Casino, which has lost a significant share of its gaming revenue to the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, opposes video gaming in Elgin. Nonetheless the council is expected to approve it later this month.

Elgin is not alone. More than four dozen communities that had opted out of video gaming have now chosen to opt back in. Due in part to seeing neighbors bringing in money - particularly in some downstate communities where there's less gaming competition.

For instance, an American Legion Post in Urbana brought in $80,000 from video gaming in December alone.

"I feel our social service agencies have been let down by the state," Mayor Kaptain said.

Elgin may take in a half million dollars annually from video gaming, and the mayor's vision is to direct that to social service efforts. It is, he says, a big part of making the change right.