EWANEE — Those video gaming machines you see in Kewanee’s restaurants and taverns are part of a multimillion-dollar local industry.
A $43 million local industry, to be exact. That’s how much the Illinois Gaming Board says was wagered in the video gaming terminals in Kewanee in the year that ended Oct. 31.
The machines paid out about 92 percent of the amount wagered, or $39.65 million, in winnings to players. That left $3.37 million in profits.
Of that, 30 percent, or just over $1 million, went to the state. The remaining 70 percent was split equally between the companies that own the gaming machines and the establishments where the machines are located.
The state sends one-sixth of the tax money it collects to the municipalities where the gaming machines are. Kewanee received $168,092 as its share of the video gaming tax receipts in the past year.
City Manager Gary Bradley said the money goes into the city’s general fund, where it can be spent on police and fire protection, street maintenance and other city services.
Bradley said the $43 million figure is somewhat misleading, as it includes winnings that are put back into the machines. So Kewanee game players aren’t necessarily spending $43 million of their income in the machines.
Kewanee has 23 establishments that have the video gaming machines, and 98 of the machines in all.
Gaming Board reports show that the establishment that took in the most video gaming revenue in the year ended Oct. 31 was Ruby’s in the Kewanee Plaza shopping center, with $6.56 million wagered.
The Kewanee Ruby’s is one of 16 Ruby’s locations owned by Fork Restaurant Group, based in Edwardsville, Ill.
Trevor Parish of Fork Restaurant Group said convenience is a big reason that video gaming is attractive to the people who play the games in the more than 6,200 Illinois establishments that have them. For Kewaneeans, driving five minutes to a local bar or restaurant to play the games is easier than driving 50 miles to casinos in Peoria or the Quad Cities, Parish noted.
He also said people seem to think they have a better chance of winning at the video gaming machines than at the state’s 10 riverboat casinos; “They feel like their money goes farther,” he said.
Parish also said video gaming proprietors focus on providing a clean, safe environment in which to play the machines.
Of the top five establishments in Kewanee in terms of gaming revenue, four are gaming parlors like Ruby’s, as opposed to bars or restaurants, according to the Gaming Board figures. Under state law, only businesses that hold liquor licenses may have the gaming machines, but Parish said Ruby’s doesn’t want to be seen as a place to drink. “We have a three-drink limit,” he said.