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Waukegan enters videogaming era

American Vending Service gaming technician Patrick Allen (right) Glenview programs gaming machine with Triple 7 handler Dave Slusser Waukegan BertrBowling

American Vending Service gaming technician Patrick Allen (right) of Glenview programs a gaming machine with Triple 7 handler Dave Slusser of Waukegan at Bertrand Bowling Lanes in Waukegan. Bertrand had five video gaming machines installed on Monday. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2012 4:22PM

WAUKEGAN — When it was time for the Illinois Video Gaming Act to become reality at Bertrand Lanes on Monday afternoon, the deed was not as simple as flipping a switch.

At one point, more than a dozen representatives from game manufacturers and terminal operators crowded into the bar, unlocking and opening the five different video terminals and the single payout machine. Technicians clicked away on touch screens, entering serial numbers and other codes specific to each device. An armed guard delivered the racks of coins intended for winners.

Through it all, Charles McDowell waited patiently for his chance to become one of the first legal gamblers in the city’s history.

“I’ve been waiting for three weeks, for crying out loud,” McDowell said with a smile. “I’ve played them in Florida, and they’ve got hundreds of them around. ... Last year, I came home with $2,000 worth of Walmart cards. It probably cost me $1,000, but so what? I’m still $1,000 ahead.”

Waiting along with McDowell was George Lawrence, who’s owned Bertrand Lanes since joining original partners Roy Bertrand, Albert Brown and Frank Ryskiewicz in 1964. The alley itself dates back to 1956, and Lawrence said he’s hoping that video gaming brings in revenue sorely needed in 2012, with bowling leagues struggling to draw a younger generation.

“Property taxes and license fees are killing us. It’s getting pretty hard to stay afloat,” he said. “Something’s got to help.”

According to Lawrence, his annual outlay to the city alone includes $1,700 for a liquor license, $1,200 for a business license, $100 per vending machine and $35 per billiard table. While he said he has “no idea at this time” what kind of dollars video gaming will bring in, estimates provided by his terminal operator, Lake in the Hills-based Triple 7 Illinois, offer a range of $45,000 to $60,000 annually per machine.

Whatever the revenue collected by a terminal ends up being, 35 percent of it will go to Bertrand Lanes, 35 percent to Triple 7, 25 percent to the state and 5 percent to the city. For the players, bets can be 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents or $2, with a maximum one-time payout of $500.

Lawrence said the process of getting the terminals in his bar area — which, as required by the Video Gaming Act, is restricted to patrons 21 years of age and older — began in August 2010, when he signed a contract with Triple 7. The process continued with an application before the Illinois Gaming Board.

“You had to be fingerprinted, you had to provide the last three years of your financial proceeds, ownership has to be verified, no violations, no felonies, no problems with your liquor license,” Lawrence said. “It just takes a long time and a lot of red tape.”

On Monday, the final step of getting the machines up and running was complicated somewhat by the fact that three different manufacturers were involved — American Gaming & Electronics, Bally and Waukegan-based WMS — and that the gaming board would have to seal each terminal and ensure that it was wired into a central computer system.

“I’ve seen up to 30 people working on this at once,” said WMS representative Jim Dockery as he observed the process. “It’s about as involved as a casino — there’s a lot of rules and regulations to follow.”

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