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Bloomington Enacts $500 Video Gaming Terminal Fee

Breanna Grow
Times Past Inn Owner Art Donaldson tells aldermen a new video gaming license fee isn't warranted.

Bloomington may have a moratorium on new video gaming machines, but the city will collect a $500 annual fee on existing machines beginning May 1.

Aldermen voted 5-4 to approve the fee Monday night.

With around 250 terminals throughout the city, staff estimate the fee will generate $125,000 annually in new revenue.

The city reports that the total net terminal income in Bloomington exceeded $15.9 million in 2018, with each terminal bringing in an average net income of $5,000 a year. Most Bloomington businesses have four to five terminals, according to the report.

Art Donaldson, owner of Times Past Inn in Bloomington, told aldermen he doesn’t get to pocket the money his business makes on video gaming.

“This revenue has helped me keep my people employed, donate back to the community and reinvest in my business to help keep it going,” he said.

He said he also doesn’t believe gambling is inherently bad.

“Are there people who gamble too much? Absolutely,” he said. “But for some, it’s their entertainment. It’s social time for people.”

Grant Jones works as an account manager for Midwest Electronics Gaming, a video gaming terminal vendor.

Jones said he didn’t understand how aldermen could push back the moratorium last month to explore the issue further, then vote this month on a fee.

“It seems kind of backwards, one week we don’t have enough information, and then this week we’re pros and we have all the data," he said.

Jones also noted the council packet for last month’s meeting showed staff had no information to report about community groups impacted by the proposal.

“This tells me that no one has talked to any of the bar owners, any of the restaurant owners and how it’s to affect their business.”

City Manager Tim Gleason said the money will go into the city’s general fund, and will fund capital improvement projects for police and fire.

Alderman Diana Hauman voted against the fee. She said she’d like to see the fee used to fund recreation, including improvements to O’Neil Pool.

“I’m struggling with asking our local establishments—because many of the bars and restaurants are local establishments—asking them to dig into their pockets to help us with something that might not be related to amusement or entertainment,” she said.

Aldermen Jamie Mathy, David Sage and Karen Schmidt also voted against the fee. Aldermen Mboka Mwilambwe, Joni Painter, Amelia Buragas, Scott Black and Kim Bray voted for the fee.

Despite the moratorium the city will grant a video gaming license to the Bloomington Knights of Columbus #574.

Staff say the nonprofit submitted an application for a license to the Illinois Gaming Board in December 2018 in anticipation of the end of the moratorium March 1. That was before aldermen voted to extend the moratorium until Sept. 1.

Alderman Scott Black said he would like to see a tiered system for the fees, with social clubs and nonprofits like Knights of Columbus paying less than for-profit businesses.

“It’s hard for me to compute a truck stop that’s bringing in a lot of money versus a small neighborhood bar that has a few terminals,” he said.

Staff said no other businesses had submitted applications for a video gaming license since the moratorium took effect.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.
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