Galesburg bets on video gambling in bars

Video gambling is getting started in Galesburg as cash-strapped Illinois tries to boost its bankroll. But those payouts could create even more problems for the challenged community.

Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar, 57 South Cherry Street, is where you’ll find the only game in Galesburg. Video gambling machines are open for business. The state of Illinois hopes the colorful games will help to reduce its massive deficit.

“They do make some noise,” said Stan Devlin, who runs Cherry Street with his wife, Lou. “It sounds like a casino up there.”

Cherry Street is using five new machines. They feature more than a dozen games with flashing lights and sound effects. During the first week in play, they paid out an estimated $6,000 to customers.

“We’re pleased we’re the first,” Devlin said. “Obviously, we’re getting some exposure.”

The Cherry Street machines are getting lots of play. Some customers even wait for a turn during the evening hours.

Cherry Street won’t be alone for long. Some two dozen local bars want a piece of the action. That leaves some residents wondering if all of this is really good for Galesburg.

Galesburg knows all about tough times. The shuttered Maytag plant is a painful reminder of lost jobs and broken dreams. With high unemployment and a tough economy, gambling could lead to larger problems.

“I think it’s an unwise move,” said Rev. Lee Johnson, Bethel Baptist Church. “I think we shouldn’t do this.”

Pastor Johnson worries that expanded gambling will tempt the most vulnerable residents.

“Instead of spending it on clothes and food, things that people consume and need, it’s just gone,” he said.

But as the reels spin at Cherry Street on Wednesday, more gaming is on the way.

“More machines, more players,” Devlin said. “We’re hoping that it will generate some revenue that we will eventually get a facelift done on the outside of the building.”

“This is a mistake,” Rev. Johnson concluded. “It’s a terrible problem. It’s a problem that all of us have to pay for in increased social programs that go along with it.”

Cashing out with profits and problems for a state with empty pockets.

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