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Video poker expansion
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver endorses four new casino licenses for the state in Lyons, Tama, Wapello and Webster counties.

Only a few days after Illinois legalized video poker, casino and bar owners in the Quad-Cities are still trying to figure out the potential impact.

Area legislators who voted for legalization say they've merely formalized an existing practice, but at least one area casino official says the expansion isn't a good development for the state's gambling industry.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $31 billion capital construction package into law Monday, with video gambling to pay part of the cost.

State regulators have two months to come up with rules governing the expansion, which could add 45,000 gambling stations in the state.

In Iowa, where state lawmakers outlawed smoking in bars last year, some tavern owners say video poker stations across the river will be just one more reason to keep people from walking through their doors.

"Anything to draw people away from here is going to hurt us," said Joe Sturgis, the owner of the Rusty Nail on West Locust Street, Davenport. "It will impact us."

Mary Ellen Chamberlin, president of the Riverboat Development Authority, said she is "appalled" at the passage. The authority holds the gambling license for the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport.

Chamberlin said she's concerned there could be a move to expand video gambling in Iowa as a response, such as reviving the TouchPlay lottery machines that stirred considerable controversy a few years back.

Some Iowa legislators said this week they don't see much chance of video gambling being approved.

"I think it's a tough uphill fight," said Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Dubuque Democrat.

A small group has pushed for it but hasn't gotten much traction, they said.

At the Jumer's Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, it's too soon to predict an effect, said Bill Renk, vice president for sales and marketing. But, he added, he sees the development as a significant change in Illinois' gambling climate.

"It's not one we look at as a positive step as far as gaming in the state," he said.

He raised questions about the ability to regulate video poker.

Municipal officials also are only beginning to try to understand the potential effect.

Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley said Thursday city staff is reviewing the change and will bring a report to the City Council in the future. He did not venture an opinion on whether the legalization was good for the city or not.

Area Illinois legislators who backed the expansion, meanwhile, said Thursday they don't see the potential for much effect on the area's casinos. Nor do they see the onset of video gambling as a major change.

"It may have an impact, but I think it's going to be negligible," Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said.

He added that there already are taverns that offer video poker and make under-the-table payments to winners.

"It's not been flaunted, and I'm not saying it goes on everywhere, but I know for certain it's going on in some areas," he said.

Neither he nor Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said they heard significant concerns before the legislation was approved from casino representatives.

Jacobs, nonetheless, said he had some concerns about the legalization's effect on taverns.

"Taverns are taverns," he said. "They shouldn't be gambling halls."

He added there was a greater need to pass the capital construction measures in order to help build such priorities as a downtown campus for Western Illinois University in the Quad-Cities.

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