DECATUR – Decatur City Council members expressed a desire Monday to change the city's video gambling landscape.
Specifically, several members said they wanted to consider imposing higher fees on the machines, as well as limiting the number of liquor licenses given to the parlor-type establishments.
The comments came during a study session in which council members heard a wealth of data about the number and type of establishments in Decatur that offer the machines, how much money they take in and how those proceeds are distributed.
“I think you see an upward trend, and I don't know that there's any end in sight,” City Manager Tim Gleason said after the meeting. “I think to the majority of the council, they have concerns about that, which is why they wanted this information presented.”
Gregg Zientara, the city's finance director, delivered the bulk of the presentation, which showed that the amount of video gambling in Decatur has ballooned.
In December 2012, there were three sites with 14 gaming terminals in the city. In March of this year, 72 establishments had 338 terminals.
In 2015, people in Decatur put nearly $70 million into the machines. They took out almost $52 million.
The difference, roughly $18 million, was divided among the machine owners, local businesses, state and city governments. The city of Decatur's share was almost $900,000.
The council created a Class P liquor license for video gaming parlors in May 2015. Before that, Councilman Jerry Dawson, who is also the city's liquor commissioner, said parlors were abusing the Class G licenses that are meant for restaurants.
Dawson said state lawmakers legalized video gambling in an effort to help bars, which were hurt by the smoking ban and increased enforcement of driving under the influence laws.
“It really was for the benefit of the taverns,” Dawson said. “With that being said, I didn't know about this other segment of the community that really don't want to go to the tavern but they want to gamble.”
There are 21 Class P licenses in Decatur. Several council members said they would like to cap and ultimately reduce that number.
The bulk of the council also appeared to support increasing the $20-per-machine fee that the businesses with video gambling pay to the city annually.
Zientara said the fee does not cover the city's costs to produce licenses for the machines. He presented information about the fees for comparable cities, which range from nothing in Champaign to $1,000 per machine in Urbana.
In other business, the council approved multiple items related to sewer work, including two items that would begin the process of repairing the massive 7th Ward sewer.
The council agreed to borrow roughly $15.3 million from the Illinois Water Pollution Control Loan Program, at an interest rate of 1.86 percent, and to hire Bainbridge, Gee, Milanski and Associates to provide engineering and inspection services for a cost not to exceed $944,000.
The sewer, deemed one of the most critical by city staff, was built in 1905. It begins at the intersection of Leafland and Edward streets and continues generally south and west, extending past Fairview Park.
“I find it very exciting, and very interesting, at the least,” Gleason said. “This is a nearly $16 million project. It just shows the commitment this council has in investing in infrastructure and (we) wanted to share that with the community.”