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Video gambling is played at Feeling Lucky Lounge and Package in Decatur. It is one of 26,589 machines in establishments statewide. (copy)

Video gambling is played at Feeling Lucky Lounge and Package in Decatur. 

DECATUR — Restaurant, bar and gaming parlor owners will have to pay the city $250 more for each video gambling machine they operate starting in 2019. The increase brings the total fee per machine to $500.

After much public discussion for several months, the city council voted 5-2 Monday to double the fee, despite the objections of concerned business owners who said they would be hurt by the change. 

Council members called the amount a compromise. Since joining the council last year, Councilman David Horn has painted the issue of video gaming as a net negative for the city overall, arguing that the gambling machines send residents' money to out-of-town machine owners and burden social services through increased personal bankruptcies and addiction-related problems.

Horn again on Monday proposed raising the fee even higher to $1,250 a terminal. He got no support from other council members, including Pat McDaniel and Chuck Kuhle, who both said gambling is just another vice that residents would take up whether it was permitted by the city or not.

The city treasurer expects the fee to bring an additional $100,000 to city coffers each year.

Several Decatur business owners spoke out before the vote, saying the extra money from the machines has allowed them to keep their doors open. 

"The gaming has kept us in business," said Kim Logan, owner of the Sundown Lounge in Decatur. The proceeds have also allowed her family business to increase the money it donates to local organizations, she said. 

"You want to keep gouging us for more and more money, OK ... but you're taking away from other organizations that we give to," she said.

The worried business owners were supported by Councilwoman Lisa Gregory and Councilman Bill Faber, the two "no" votes. Faber said the move would punish too many small businesses, even though he also supports abolishing video gambling.

"I find the proliferation of video gambling to be an embarrassment ... but I feel the raise to $500 accomplishes nothing," Faber said.

Decatur has 83 businesses with video gaming. The machines were legalized by the Video Gaming Act in 2009 by the Illinois General Assembly as a way to fund a $31 billion capital program. Legalization also was seen as a way to help businesses struggling after the state’s indoor smoking ban went into effect the previous year. The first state-approved terminal went online in September 2012.

A total of $57,439,267 in funds were counted as video game terminal income in Decatur during the first six months of 2018, data from the Illinois Gaming Board shows. Wagering activity on Decatur's 397 video gaming terminals totaled $175,460,139.25 during the period. 

The numbers for January to June show the city's share of taxes on the revenue totaled $736,574.70. The state received $3,682,876.94.

In other business, the city council unanimously approved sweeping changes to rules for ambulance service operators in Decatur, something Decatur Fire Chief Jeff Abbott says will bring the city in line with new standards and technology that have largely been in place in communities across the country for years.

"We're not reinventing the wheel, the wheel's been in place for a while, Decatur just hasn't put it on the car (yet)," Abbott said Monday before the meeting.
 
Under the new rules, ambulance calls in Decatur would be overseen by the city's fire department and folded into the the department's emergency incident command system. Abbott said the changes will allow the fire department to better coordinate emergency services based on the situation.
 
In June, the parent company of HSHS St. Mary's Hospital acquired the family-run Decatur Ambulance Service, still the only operator in the city.
 
An attorney representing the hospital and ambulance operators challenged the council over language that related to how much control the fire department would have over how to assign ambulances if more than one company became licensed in the city. The council ultimately rejected the request.
 
Carle Arrow Ambulance, an Urbana-based ambulance service, is seeking a license to operate in Decatur. Abbott said it would be the first time in decades more than one ambulance service has operated in Decatur at the same time.
 
Representatives from Arrow Ambulance were present at Monday night's hearing but did not speak during the proceedings.
 
In July, Abbott called the city's ambulance service agreement "antiquated," and said many of the updates to the ordinance simply catch up to national standards that have been established for years.
 
The new ordinance does not change the license fee the city will charge ambulance services. Abbott has said Decatur's rate, $400, is low compared to other Central Illinois communities.
 
The city of Champaign in March increased annual ambulance service fees from $125 to $15,000.

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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi

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Decatur Reporter

Decatur reporter for the Herald & Review.

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