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Circle K & gaming machines

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Lengthy discussion at council meeting

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

As a representative of a company explained its desire to install gaming devices at its local convenience store to the Vandalia City Council, some aldermen expressed their concerns about that plan.
John Stanisz, business manager for Circle K’s Midwest Division, told the council that even though state law states that gaming licenses can only be granted to businesses that have liquor licenses, “The intent (of Circle K) is to not sell alcohol.”
Stanisz’s presentation represented the council’s “first reading” of a request for a liquor license. Circle K is requesting a license that will allow them to sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises.
The council is scheduled to vote at its July 7 meeting on the request to add a liquor license. If it’s approved, Mayor Rick Gottman, as the city’s liquor commissioner, would act on the liquor license application.
“For us to subsidize this store, we need to be able to come up with additional revenue,” Stanisz said about the Circle K store at the northeast corner of Gallatin and Second streets.
Revenue from the gaming devices, he said, would allow the company to consider making improvements to the Vandalia store.
“We hope it’s an opportunity to expand that store,” Stanisz said.
Circle K has two options for an enclosed gaming area, he said.
One option has the gaming room behind the area where tobacco products are located, at the cash register area.
The second option is to get permission from Arthur Young Inc. to construct a small building behind the dealership’s lot on the north side of Gallatin Street.
Stanisz said Circle K’s plan includes selling only one type of beer, charging $8 for a cup of beer and limiting each customer to one beer in a 24-hour period.
The plan calls for a Circle K employee to pour the beer into a clear, 24-ounce plastic cup and walking it into the gaming room for the customer. The beer can only be consumed inside the gaming room, he said.
Alderman Terry Beesley said he has a couple of concerns.
First, Beesley said, he understands that granting Circle K a liquor license for gaming is allowed by law.
But, he said, “by the spirit of the law, it seems that we are circumventing it.”
Second, Beesley said, adding gaming devices is providing “another way to lose money for people who shouldn’t be losing money.”
He said that it’s opinion that the Circle K store is in a “blighted area” of town, and that some residents are already spending money on such things as lottery tickets and tobacco products, when they should be using that money for their families.
The gaming machines, Beesley said, will attract “a lot of people who probably shouldn’t be gambling.”
Alderman Dorothy Crawford disagreed with Beesley’s second concern.
“What people do with their money is not the city council’s concern,” Crawford said.
Stanisz responded to Beesley’s comments by saying that adding gaming machines “is offering something that the customer wants.”
He presented city officials with figures from the state on income from gaming terminals in Vandalia in May. Last month, the net income on 45 machines at 11 locations totaled $192,456.05.
Of that, the state receives $48,114.34, and the city’s share is $9,622.84.
The May revenue at the individual locations ranged from $503 to $55,530, according to the figures presented by Stanisz.
He estimates that the machines will generate $15,000 in revenue annually for the city.
Alderman Russ Stunkel said that he’s concerned about individuals under the age of 21 being in the gaming room.
Stanisz said Circle K will have a buzzer that sounds whenever someone enters the room and video surveillance of the area.
He said that the Circle K staff will “self-police and self-report” violations, and that the state has the opportunity to view all video footage.
“Once we see an underage person enter, it is our responsibility to have them leave,” Stanisz said. “We will be a good steward of that location.”
Alderman Neil Clark said that limited space for parking is already a problem at the store, and that the gaming room will likely add to the problem.
Stanisz said, “For us to be able to subsidize this store, we need to be able to come up with additional income.
“We have that challenge (with parking) in a few locations. We are kind of landlocked at times,” he said, noting that Circle K has in the past purchased and demolished nearby homes to create additional parking.
Stanisz told aldermen that should they decided to allow gaming machines at the local Circle K, they have the right to later change their mind.
“It’s a one-year license,” he said.
At the end of that period, Stanisz said, the city has the right to not renew the license “if you see that it’s something that you don’t want to do anymore.”
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• The council approved the transfer of Vandalia Lake lot No. 30 from Jerry Huffman of Litchfield to Mike and Melissa Baucum of rural Vandalia.
• Gottman reported that he had learned earlier in the day that the Law Dogs, a law enforcement motorcycle club, will hold its national rally in Vandalia next June.
• The mayor reported that the city is still waiting to hear from the Illinois Department of Transportation on what it should do to address the unsafe conditions of the Thrill Hill Road bridge west of U.S. Route 51.
• Alderman Andy Lester, chairman of the council’s building and grounds committee, reported that the city has received bids from three local contractors for a new cemetery maintenance building.
He said that all bids are within the budget estimate and are currently being reviewed by the committee as it prepares to make a recommendation to the full council.
• The council observed a moment of silence for: Lyle Ballance, a former county supervisor of assessments; Jack Scott, an area businessman, farmer and long-time basketball official; J. Carl Smith, a former Emergency Management Agency coordinator; and Dale Freeman, a former businessman and community volunteer.