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Column: Casey’s at the bet

Brett Herrmann
Brett Herrmann

They were a holdout for the first seven years. No video gaming machine could be found in a Casey’s General Store in Illinois.

But that’s all about to change. The company is working on breaking into the video gambling market, something many of its competitors in the gas station industry have already been cashing in on for years.

At last week’s Spring Valley City Council meeting, Casey’s requested an upgrade to its liquor license to sell alcohol for both on-premises and off-premises consumption. Gaming licenses are tied to liquor licenses in Illinois and gaming establishments have to be able to serve alcohol in-house.

With the liquor license changed, the Spring Valley Casey’s can now apply for a gaming license. But there are no Casey’s that currently offer video gambling at this time. However, there are a few applicants that have licenses pending with the Illinois Gaming Board. Mulberry Grove, West Frankfort, Farmer City and Morrisonville could be the first to house the machines if their applications are approved.

Megan Elfers, vice president of marketing and advertising for Casey’s, said the group is testing the waters at several stores this year to see if customers are interested.

“As we look to explore opportunities to grow our business by introducing new products and experiences that our customers are seeking, we recognized that video gaming in the store was a program worth further exploration,” she said.

Why is this significant to the Illinois Valley? For those that haven’t noticed, there is already plenty of Casey’s infrastructure in town. The dead horse of a joke that has been beaten into a fine horse paste online is that any new development anywhere in the Illinois Valley has to include room for a Casey’s.

In reality, there are 22 Casey’s General Stores in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties. So, if all of them were to allow video gaming, there could be a surge in machines over the next few months.

Illinois will soon allow up to six machines per establishment — an increase from the previous limit of five that was changed with the new gaming bill.

If all locations were to get the max amount of machines, that is 132 new video slots in the area. And the area already has plenty to go around. In 2018, La Salle County was second of 102 counties in Illinois in the number of video gaming machines per capita. Bureau County was 13th and Putnam County ranked 34th, according to the Wagering in Illinois update by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Does the area need more machines? Probably not. It will make some tasty profits for Casey’s, an Iowa-based company. And that could mean less money for the locally-owned parlors in the area if customers choose to head to the convenience store with a whole lot more.

So there is no joy in the Illinois Valley — the mighty Casey’s might strike rich.

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