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Video gambling a winning hand for some

Giuseppe VentrellOak Forest tries his luck gambling machines Cindy's Pub Oak Forest IL Thursday February 28 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times

Giuseppe Ventrella, of Oak Forest, tries his luck on the gambling machines at Cindy's Pub in Oak Forest, IL, on Thursday, February 28, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:06AM



Giuseppe Ventrella sat down at a video gambling machine at Cindy’s Pub in Oak Forest at 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday, dug out four $20 bills and started having fun.

About 15 minutes later, his 80 bucks were gone.

Ventrella, 60, stepped out for a smoke.

A short time later, he put $40 into another machine. This time, he won $210.

A few minutes later, $20 was reinvested. Cha-ching, Ventrella earned another $120.

“I enjoy when I win but I don’t like when I lose,” said Ventrella, a concrete worker who won about $200 the previous night.

The Oak Forest man was smiling. So was pub owner Cindy Tuccillo.

The city of Oak Forest and the state of Illinois have reasons to be pleased, too, because not everyone has the luck of a Giuseppe Ventrella. Just ask the guy nursing a morning eyeopener who shook his head and said, “I’ve been down on my luck lately.”

Luck mostly has been with those who operate and offer video gambling, which finally was launched in October under a state law passed in 2009.

The state, for instance, collected $2.445,301 and local governments claimed $489,060 in January.

According to the Illinois Gaming Board, income generated from the video gambling terminals is divided among the state, the local government entity where the establishment is located, the terminal operator, the licensed location, and Scientific Games, which built and maintains the system that tracks the machines statewide.

Including winnings that are reinvested, a staggering $125,459,092 was played statewide in January. The actual amount of money people took out of their pockets and purses to play was $32,443,447.

The state collects 30 percent of the net income generated from each licensed video gaming terminal. Of the state’s portion, 5 percent is passed to the local government entity. Of the remaining 70 percent, Scientific Games receives 0.7275 percent of the net terminal income. The remainder is divided equally between the terminal operator and the business where the gambling machine is located.

Here’s the take for local communities in January, the most recent figures available, according to the Illinois Gaming Board: Alsip, $2,136; Blue Island, $4,380; Bridgeview, $4,075: Chicago Heights, $1,143; Chicago Ridge, $2,955; Crestwood, $1,862; Crete, $135; Ford Heights, $855; Justice, $5,600; Lockport, $2,834; Manhattan, $1,581; Midlothian, $310; Orland Hills, $1,891; Palos Hills, $1,749; Park Forest, $413; Richton Park, $93; Posen, $1,898; and Worth, $804.

Some businesses do even better.

Tuccillo made $8,423 from the five machines in January. Her business is one of the biggest gambling machine moneymakers in the Chicago area, records show.

“Without them, it would be dead in here, hard to pay bills,” she said. “It’s not only me. Everyone else is doing good.”

The machines bring in new customers who eat and drink, she said, creating more profit.

That’s the idea, said Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, a proponent of video gambling.

“I have friends who tell me Cindy’s was dead during weeknights around 8 or 9 o’clock. Now you see people waiting to use the machines,” Kuspa said.

Kuspa said people who formerly went to Indiana or Joliet to gamble stay in town. So does their cash. In fact, revenues slid 9 percent for Northwest Indiana’s five casinos in February, according to the Indiana Gaming Commission.

February numbers aren’t in for Illinois, but Oak Forest got $6,778 from video gambling at six establishments in January.

“I think it’s very positive for our community. It allows people to stay in town, have a sandwich, have a cocktail, do a little gambling. They can have a little entertainment right in their own back yard,” Kuspa said.

Kuspa does worry that those addicted to gambling may spend money they can ill afford to lose.

“I care for those people and I pray for them. But, believe me, I have to look out for the businesses in my community. These are good, law-abiding businesses who are following the law by doing this. And it helps them,” Kuspa said.

More believers?

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki has taken notice of what’s going on in neighboring Oak Forest. The Tinley Park Village Board decided to not allow video gambling because of moral issues and family values, he said. Now, Zabrocki isn’t so sure about the decision, believing gambling is “more fashionable now.”

“We may have to revisit this later on. Now it’s not as clear-cut as it was five or 10 years ago,” he said.

Asked if the village may one day reverse its decision and allow video gambling, he said, “Never say ‘never.’ If I told you that Tinley Park doesn’t need the extra dollars, I’d be lying to you.”

But like Kuspa, Zabrocki is concerned “the guy in a minimum-wage job will lose money his family needs,” he said.

“It’s easier for them to lose money (when gambling is allowed locally),” he said. “Instead of driving to the boats, they can drive to the local gin mill.”

Folks have been spending more time and money at Burr Oak Bowl in Blue Island, manager Joe Salgado said Friday.

“We’re doing pretty good. We’ve been able to hire an extra person to help out with bartending and food orders,” he said.

The bowling alley has five gambling games in the lounge, “and they’re pretty popular. Instead of leaving after bowling, instead of driving to Joliet or Indiana or Des Plaines, they stay here and play,” Salgado said.

People can bet there from 8 a.m. until closing.

“I don’t see a lot more new people coming in, but I do see more people sticking around. We’re doing OK, but they really do well in towns like Oak Lawn, which are closer to Chicago because they don’t have the games in the city,” Salgado said.

Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen reported no problems since gambling was implemented. Seven businesses offer it and two are on the way. The village earned $4,634 in January.

“At first, the village was not an advocate of it. We responded to local businesses. We never did it for the revenue. We didn’t even plan for it in our budget. We monitor it closely from a law enforcement standpoint. Quite frankly, I think gaming was going on before the law was passed,” he said.

That would be the illegal, under-the-table variety, the kind which paid no taxes. Now, though, it’s all on the up-and-up and governments monitor the games and get their fair share of revenue.

Deetjen pointed to The Avenue Flower Shop — which added a wine bar a few years ago and video gambling in January — as a shining example of what’s possible.

“She’s drawing customers from Beverly and Evergreen Park, two wonderful neighbors, as well as Oak Lawn. People feel comfortable not having to travel to the riverboats. They can stay in the neighborhood,” Deetjen said.

Back at Cindy’s, Ventrella said perspective is the key.

“If you don’t have it, don’t spend it,” he said. “First, you’ve got to think about bread on the table. Then if you have a spare $10, you can do what you want with it.”



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