BATAVIA – The Batavia City Council will debate a proposal to halt the expansion of video gambling in the community.
There are seven businesses in the city operating the gaming terminals. Aldermen late last year approved a permit for Funway Entertainment Center, which is now awaiting its license from the Illinois Gaming Control Board, while a downtown Batavia restaurant filed an application with the city late last month.
Fifth Ward Alderman Mark Uher is seeking to end any further expansion of video gambling in the city and set the stage for rolling back the existing conditional use permits that are currently in use.
“My idea is to grandfather-in the businesses that have them now until ownership changes,” Uher said.
Aldermen will meet as a committee of the whole at 7 p.m. on Feb. 25 at Batavia City Hall, with Uher’s proposal included as a discussion item on the agenda.
Uher said that capping the number of permits at a particular figure might not be the solution because “caps can get moved,” he said.
“I want to cap it at the number we have now,” Uher said.
Video gambling has been a contentious issue in Batavia ever since the council voted to lift its ban on the machines near the end of 2016, which came at the request of business owners who said they needed to offer gaming in order to remain competitive.
Aldermen granted final approval on a permit for Funway, 1335 S. River St., on an 8-5 vote with one alderman absent.
Meanwhile, the owners of Riverside Pizza & Pub, 142 W. Wilson St., are already in possession of a state video gambling license and have submitted an application to the city for a conditional use permit.
Video gambling permits are issued to certain classifications of businesses and most of these are tied to the possession of a liquor license.
The vote to approve Funway’s permit was for businesses holding an E-3 liquor license, a classification designated for bowling alleys and entertainment centers. Funway is the only business in Batavia possessing such a liquor license.
Aldermen voting in favor said the bowling alley and entertainment center classification should have been included when the city first lifted its video gambling ban.
Uher and other aldermen voting against the Funway permit said they believe the entertainment center’s owners will operate video gambling in a responsible manner, but said they simply oppose any further expansion of video wagering in Batavia.
It is clear that several aldermen support or are at least open to Uher’s proposal.
Along with Uher, those who voted against the Funway permit include 3rd Ward Alderman Elliot Meitzler, 4th Ward Alderman Tony Malay and 7th Ward Alderman Drew McFadden.
Uher’s 5th Ward colleague, Alderman Abby Beck, also voted against the Funway permit and has expressed strong opposition to video gambling in the past.
However, Beck said she will recuse herself from the discussion and any vote on video gambling, now that she has announced plans to seek a liquor license to go with a restaurant she plans to open in the city.
Meanwhile, both 3rd Ward Alderman Dan Chanzit and 6th Ward Alderman Nick Cerone said they are open to Uher’s idea. Both men had supported the Funway permit.
Other council members have expressed support for video gaming, saying businesses should be able to offer the diversion for their customers if they choose to do so.
Video gambling has become a revenue source for the city of Batavia and is expected to generate about $75,000 for municipal coffers this year.
First Ward Alderman Michael O’Brien said the city should take advantage of revenues it can generate in order to hold the line on property taxes.
Mayor Jeff Schielke, who opposed the council’s decision to lift the video gambling ban, has indicated support for Uher’s proposal.
The mayor has said he is getting inquiries from business entities from outside Batavia that are seeking to establish storefront video gambling parlors offering coffee, rather than alcoholic beverages, with an eye to targeting senior citizens.
Currently, taverns, restaurants, fraternal organizations and truck stops are the business classifications allowed to apply for a video gambling permit, along with the new bowling alley and entertainment center classification.
Businesses need a video gambling license from the state, but municipalities can regulate what types of businesses, if any, may apply.
There currently are seven businesses in the city offering video gambling, each with five machines.
The businesses include Speedway, 1495 E. Wilson Street; Crosstown Pub & Grill, 1890 Mill St., Rosati’s Pizza, 322 E. Wilson St. and the Batavia Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1197, 645 S. River St.
Others include Full Moon Bar & Grill, 113 S. Batavia Ave.; Bulldog’s Cellar, 1 E. Wilson St. and Acquaviva Ristorante, 35 N. Water St.
Funway, which offers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor amusements, plans to create a video gambling area inside an existing storage room connected to the bar in the 20-lane bowling center.
The city collects an annual fee of $1,000 per location from the distributors who own the video gambling terminals.
There is also an annual fee of $25 per machine that the city receives from the businesses owners.
The major revenue for the city comes from its 5% cut from the gambling action.