Video gambling continues to grow in the Illinois Valley

How often do you video gamble? Stacy Merrifield, cashier at Beck’s in La Salle, straightens chairs and stocks the snacks in the video game lounge. Gaming machines have popped up in non-traditional locations such as gas stations and convenience stores, resulting in record gaming revenue in the Illinois Valley.

The room is never really empty. Customers shuffle between the cases of liquor and through a tinted glass door to the video slots.

A sign above the door, modeled to look like the bright lights of Las Vegas, says “Welcome to Fabulous Beck’s.”

Right now, it’s one of the hottest gaming spot in La Salle.

“There are times where our machines are filled up and people have to get turned away,” said Beck’s station manager Cyle Dickens.

Beck’s hasn’t been in the video gambling business very long. The machines were installed in mid-March, and they were an instant hit with customers.

“I thought it would be something where you get a few people coming in, but no. We have people here all of the time,” Dickens said.

Beck’s is one of several gas stations that have recently added the gaming machines to their store. Initially, video gaming was relegated to bars, restaurants and truck stops (truck stops had to meet a number of different requirements, including being on at least 3 acres of land and selling 10,000 gallons of diesel per month).

Beck’s and many stores like them, had its license in limbo for years.

“When we opened up, we applied for our license and that was in 2015. We didn’t get one right away because we were considered a non-traditional establishment,” Dickens said. “Restaurants and bars, they would get theirs all day long. Now, you might see an influx of machines at gas stations.”

In January, the Illinois Gaming Board informed Dickens that the store would be re-inspected. By March, the machines were up and running.

Lately the Illinois Gaming Board has been approving some more non-traditional locations and that has led to record growth in gaming revenue for the Illinois Valley.

Gaming with groceries

Since January, the gaming board has issued 26 new gaming licenses in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties. Of those 26 new licenses, 14 were in gas stations, convenience stores or grocery stores.

For a couple of months, Nina’s Mexican Market in La Salle experimented with the machines.

“We wanted to try something new but it didn’t work out,” said Mila Tintori, a manager at Nina’s.

Nina’s, which is a combination market, deli and restaurant, didn’t quite take off like Beck’s. The store sits on a block of downtown La Salle that already has three separate gaming parlors.

“I guess they took them out because they weren’t making the money they were supposed to,” Tintori said. “Now we have more room again in our restaurant, though,”

The Mini-Market in Spring Valley fared a little better. The convenience store and deli quickly became the highest earning gaming spot in Spring Valley just a few months after having the machines installed.

A big spike

March was a record-breaking month for the Illinois Valley. $3.54 million was played in machines in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties. Before March, monthly totals had only eclipsed $3 million three times.

April didn’t quite top March’s numbers, but the total of $3.28 million still makes it the second highest earning month since gaming was established in September 2012.

The city of La Salle saw its take in revenue jump from about $12,000 to $17,500 between February and March. That’s after a year where revenue numbers nestled steadily between $12,000 to $14,000.

“I thought our revenue had stabilized until these other locations had opened up,” said La Salle’s finance director John Duncan IV. “You can see where Beck’s jumped right into significant revenue.”

And Dickens said the gaming machines really haven’t slowed sales for other forms of gaming.

“Another interesting part is we haven’t seen a drop off in our lottery sales,” he said. “When you see some of these revenue numbers it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ It just keeps growing.”

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.

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NewsTribune Online Editor covering Spring Valley and Dalzell. Contact him at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com

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