Jo Daviess County cities, businesses reap rewards from video gaming

EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. — More than nine years after video gaming terminals began operating in Illinois, Jo Daviess County businesses continue to reap the benefits of legalized gambling.

“It definitely brings in people you normally wouldn’t have,” said Jim Ege, the owner of Jimmy’s Pub in East Dubuque, of the bar’s six video gaming terminals. “Without a doubt, they improve your business.”

Since video gaming started in Illinois in 2012, its popularity and revenue have steadily risen — until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led the state to suspend gaming operations from March to June and again from November to January 2021.

As a result, Jo Daviess County businesses and municipalities saw their gambling revenues fall last year. But the first 10 months of 2021 already have proven more profitable than 2019, signaling a strong future for the industry.

Video gaming revenue is shared among the establishment, state, municipality and terminal operator, or the company that installs and maintains the machine.

Through October of this year, the City of East Dubuque collected $191,417 from 90 machines operating at 16 businesses. That total already surpasses the $146,498 collected in 2019 and easily bests the $112,496 the municipality earned in 2020. City Manager Loras Herrig said the city earmarks video gaming money for road repairs. The funds allow officials to complete substantial projects, such as work on Beecher Street planned for 2022.

“Because of video gaming, we will be able to do that project next year,” he said.

The City of Galena collected $82,656 from video gaming through October of this year. That figure reflects revenue from 53 machines operating in 11 establishments since January, although as of October, only 50 machines were active in 10 businesses. It represents an increase from $42,083 collected in 2020 and $68,389 in 2019.

“There’s no question the revenue is helpful,” said City Administrator Mark Moran. “It’s obviously difficult to grow new revenue sources as a municipality, so this is one that has been beneficial.”

Connie Copeland, manager at Dillons HM in Galena, said the restaurant’s four video gaming terminals are attractive to customers waiting for their meals.

“When we get tourists, they’ll play while they’re waiting for their food or having their drink,” she said.

Tammy’s Piggly Wiggly Fresh Market in Galena has six video game terminals.

“There’s no labor involved with it whatsoever — it’s just revenue for the bottom line,” said owner Tammy Lee. “ … It’s a great thing. It certainly helps afford this size of a store in a small town.”

Neither East Dubuque nor Galena officials limit the number of video gaming terminals in the city. Any business with a liquor license is eligible.

“There’s always the concern you’re reaching a saturation point, that there’s only so many gambling dollars to go around,” Herrig said. “In this particular case, with the continuing increase in revenue, I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet.”