Under review

Herald file photoIn this Herald file photo, Fulton resident Rich Kummerer relaxes at Paddle Wheel Pizza in Fulton playing the video gaming machines offered at the local bar and eatery.

FULTON, Ill. — In the upcoming month, now-seated Fulton City Administrator Randy Boonstra will look into the effect of video gaming over the past five years — and what to do about it.

In recent city council meetings, liquor licenses have been a hot request. However, due to limiting ordinances, additional licenses must be by special request and so far not in favor of additional video gambling terminals — especially without the sale of food.

There’s one video gaming terminal for every 481 resident in Illinois, a statistic recognized by the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association. Fulton Mayor Mike Ottens said the gap is even closer in the town, 1 to 120 — 1 to 100 with the inclusion of King Pin’s Saloon. As an individual of Fulton, Ottens feels it has reached saturation levels. However the future of the terminals would await council review.

All around the state, communities are having similar discussions. Plainfield, Illinois, a home-rule community of 42,933, recently voted down opening an ordinance to the allowance of the online gambling terminals. Between board members — and seemingly the discussion in Fulton — is the question of revenue for the municipality and how it reflects on the city.

“If they allowed more it would just become too much,” said Terrah Castro of Manny’s Too, in regarding to more gaming dens like Julie’s Video and Poker Slots.

“They’re already in the bars and restaurants, that’s enough. If they were to be everywhere, it would be like Las Vegas,” Castro joked.

The six establishments, seven including out-of-town King Pen’s, have generated a net terminal income of $4,682,057.83. By the Illinois Video Gaming Act, enacted in 2012, this is taxed by 30 percent toward state and local governments. Five-sixths of the shared revenues are slated for state Capital Projects Fund, with the remaining percentage deposited into a Local Government Video Gaming Distributive Fund. The allocable funds are then handed off to each eligible municipality proportionate of the revenue generated.

Municipalities can do what they want with the monies, as far as what projects and funds to finance.

For a few years, the funds have been going toward parks in Fulton. Public Works Director Dan Clark said the revenue has helped “tremendously.” Two years ago, a new park was dedicated off 22nd Avenue and Sixth Street. Clark hopes he can do more.

“From my point of view, it does bring revenue into the town,” he said. “Parks are an area that we have been lacking and (video gaming revenue) has been a boost.”

Municipalities also can limit the potential gaming revenue by either capping the amount of liquor licenses or with zoning. Establishments wishing to acquire gaming terminals must first obtain a liquor license.

In mid-2017, Fulton City Council reduced the number of active liquor licenses from 13 to 11 in its bylaws.

“Do we issue more liquor licenses for gaming or not, that has to be determined (by the council),” Ottens said.

Julie’s appeared in Fulton sometime between January 2016 and 2017. The terminal “den,” as its affectionately called, according to Ottens, has generated $33,561.80 of municipality share in the $234,103.65-video gaming tax distribution.

When they first moved in, and perhaps still now, bars/restuarnts with the terminals feared loss of patrons. Boonstra, however, said that 70 percent of Julie’s customers are new business.

“Bars have gone down in revenue, but not in total of what Julie’s is bringing in,” he said.

There’s pros and cons to opening the gates to more liquor licenses, and gaming dens, officials say. But for people like, Manny Castro, owner of Manny’s Too, it’s a waiting game. Castro asked the council to approve a sort of take-out den as an extension of the restaurant. However, until Boonstra completes his comprehensive study, the liquor license allowances will remain the same — unless otherwise stated by an approval by the council of a special request.

“The money from those operations tends to stay in the community,” he said about local restaurants and bars. “Existing bar owners have expanded or renovated.”

Whereas satellite dens, like Julie’s which has multiple locations in the region, “that money goes out of the community, the profits aren’t reinvested,” Boonstra explained.

Right now, Fulton has 29 terminals in seven establishments in and near the city. Whether more will be added eventually, depends on the full data analysis of these machines on the community and the council.