Having decided that Lockport needs more rules for video gambling on its books, the City Council continues to hone its proposed changes to the ordinance regulating the growing business.
City Council members debated further as they considered a draft for the amended ordinance Wednesday night at its Committee of the Whole meeting. With some issues still to be resolved, the council is not ready to vote yet.
Once the city has finalized all its changes, the ordinance would need to be approved and will be effective Jan. 1.
One of the changes the city will make is forming a three-member gaming commission. Individuals would be nominated by Mayor Steven Streit and then confirmed by the council.
Nominees need to be at least 21 years old, Lockport residents and, if possible, from different parts of the city. They also cannot have any financial ties to the gaming industry.
Another proposed change would limit the number of video gaming establishments to 18, although the gaming commission would have the discretion to ask that the cap be increased as the need arises. Currently, the city has 17 establishments with video gaming terminals.
Businesses – with some exceptions – would also be expected to limit their gross revenue from video gaming to 40%. Also, businesses that allow patrons under the age of 21 – specifically restaurants – would be required to have gaming machines completely screened from view.
Establishments would have six months from Jan. 1 to submit a plan for screening and one year to come into compliance with the 40% revenue cap.
One of the sticking points debated Wednesday night was how to address the changes regarding current restaurants that would need to renovate to comply with the screening requirement.
Streit recommended allowing the proposed gaming commission to hear appeals and rule on using the city’s gaming revenues to help offset these costs for the business owners. Currently, these revenues are required to be specifically used for renovations to Lockport’s downtown.
Alderwomen Joanne Bartelsen, Catherine Perretta and Christina Bergbower expressed skepticism about the city giving financial assistance to the businesses that generate revenue from the gaming terminals.
Bartelsen said that the business owners should first seek financial assistance from the gaming industry.
“I don’t know why the city has to be obligated to dish out money that we could use for the benefit of everyone,” she said.
Council members Renee Saban, Darren Deskin, JR Gillogly and Mark Lobes agreed that the city should be able to assist the businesses.
“This is nonproperty tax revenue, this is nonsales tax revenue,” Deskin said. “This is ‘choice revenue’ by people who choose to play.”
All agreed that if the city does decide to go this route, there should be a cap on the amount the city can give in the form of a grant to the business.
Joe Gallas, owner of the recently opened Stagecoach Saloon, told council members that it was “not fair” to force these changes on business owners that are in compliance until the rules get changed on them.
“I have no problem screening my games, but I wish I would’ve been told that six months ago,” Gallas said.
He added that it was not an issue of money for him, but one of space. With only five restaurants that would be affected by the screening requirement, Gallas requested that the city exempt them from the new changes.