Video gambling revenue is paying an extra salary for one local bar owner, but it's not enough to fix Moline's crumbling cemetery walls.
Hundreds of digital slot machines are fanned out across the Illinois Quad-Cities, giving gamblers a choice that's literally as close as a walk to the neighborhood pub. But they don't seem to be paying off in the way city leaders had hoped a year ago.
Moline's finance director Kathy Carr thought she was being conservative when she budgeted $135,000 in expected new revenue this year from video gambling, even though an Illinois study projected a city its size would bank more than twice that amount.
"We're not even close," she said.
About $20,000 has trickled in since January.
Half of Moline's share was supposed to fund infrastructure projects. One of those projects would repair erosion at Riverside Cemetery, which is more than 150 years old and the burial place of notables ranging from industrialist John Deere to Francis Dickens, the fifth child of author Charles Dickens.
Carr said the city just approved next year's budget, expecting to make $70,000 from video gambling, which still is not enough for the cemetery work.
"I guess those walls will continue to crumble," she said.
What Moline alone had budgeted for this year is more than what the Illinois Quad-Cities as a whole has actually raked in since last October, when the first machine was installed in a bar in Silvis.
Rock Island County municipalities have collected $120,957 in the 12 months.
A municipality gets a 5 percent cut of the net income off a machine. Illinois gets its 25 percent share, and the rest is divided equally between the bar owner and machine vendor, bar owners say.
First in the county
Bryan Hendricks called it the "luck of the draw" that his Silvis bar, Avenue Tap, got to be first in Rock Island County. He has made $66,000 off his four machines.
"It's somebody's paycheck," he said.
Hendricks saw an initial bump in customers wanting to check out the new machines. He said that has trailed off as almost every bar in the area has a few of its own.
Bob Anderson used a neon sign to advertise gambling at his establishment, City Limits Saloon & Grill in Rock Island, but he said he hasn't cashed in like he hoped.
"The video machines are doing nice for everyone, but the additional income is half what I expected," Anderson said.
Anderson's machines made $15,902 in September, according to Illinois Gaming Board statistics. He pocketed $5,565.
A few weeks after Anderson's gaming operation went live, the four machines at Goombazz Big City Eatzz, also in Rock Island, were ready for action.
Restaurant owners Sal Cracco and Brenda Brewer said they had high hopes for the new revenue, based largely on the "big promises" made by the gaming-machine vendors.
"As far as we're concerned, the three machines are wonderful," Brewer said.
The extra money came in especially handy in July, which was the restaurant's slowest month since it opened a year ago.
"Food sales were terrible in July, terrible," Cracco said. "But you know what else happened in July? Ready? It was our best month for revenue on the slot machines."
The couple agreed the option to gamble is not necessarily bringing in new customers, but it is bringing people back.
"The Illinois casino is too noisy, and the ones in Iowa are too smoky," Cracco said.
More machines coming in
The rollout was slow elsewhere in Rock Island County.
Moline establishments didn't get any machines until January. Then a month after Casey's Tavern got its machines, they were stolen, Carr said.
She added that someone took a baseball bat to the machines at Bad Boy'z Pizza and they were off line for several weeks.
Now, Moline leads the Rock Island County pack with 72 machines in 19 businesses. Carr said Bier Stube just got approved, and there are 13 more gambling licenses pending.
Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox
Rosy's Watering Hole in Moline got machines three months ago. Despite the delay, its owner Rosy Atkins has seen business steadily pick up.
"I think it's going to be a good deal," she said, adding that some of her customers who work third shift gamble in her place as early as 6 a.m.
Last month, her machines made $12,695 and she pocketed $4,443.
Hendricks got $7,711 last month from the $22,033 his machines made. With the saturation of video gaming in the area, he thinks he's reached a plateau.
Anderson thinks there's still a little room to grow his video gaming with the possible addition of Walmart and other new businesses to Rock Island's 11th Street.
Casino revenue declines
But casinos are feeling the pinch from the explosion of video gaming. Jumer's Casino & Hotel spokesman Bill Renk said that although overall Illinois gaming revenue has increased this year, casino revenue is decreasing.
"We're all fighting for that discretionary gaming dollar," Renk said. "We're in competition with them, and it's a competitive market here."
Bordering states also are seeing casino revenues decline.
"Revenue at all facilities is down a few percentage points," Iowa Racing and Gaming director Brian Ohorilko said. "The video gambling is certainly one factor contributing to the decline."
The Quad-City area's four casinos, including Jumer's in Rock Island, Isle of Capri in Bettendorf, Rhythm City in Davenport and Wild Rose in Clinton, all posted declines in revenue last month from a year ago. Jumer's had the largest decrease, at close to $500,000.
Although Silvis paved the way for video gaming in the Quad-Cities, not everyone was on board.
Silvis' 2nd Ward Alderman Matthew Carter was concerned having gambling machines and ATMs "within arm's reach" of one another.
"I had some initial concerns," Carter said. "I didn't like that someone could get into his account, walk a few steps and spend all his money."
Silvis outlawed allowing ATMs in close proximity to gambling machines in bars, Carter said, but that's not the case at other bars throughout the county.
(Barb Ickes contributed to this story.)