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Video gambling in Lake County gets off to a winning start

Shawn Ludwig North Chicago plays video gaming machine Franks Lounge North Chicago. Franks Lounge located 2234 Green Bay Road has

Shawn Ludwig of North Chicago plays a video gaming machine at Franks Lounge in North Chicago. Franks Lounge, located at 2234 Green Bay Road, has two machines which were installed on Monday. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Approved in 2009, the Illinois Video Gaming Act allows existing taverns, clubs and fraternal organizations that are licensed to sell liquor to apply for up to five gaming terminals that must be plugged-into a state-controlled central network. Revenue from the machines is earmarked for capital improvement projects around the state.

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Updated: December 16, 2012 1:35AM

A little bit of Las Vegas ka-chinged into Lake County this week with the installation of the area’s first video gaming machines.

Two of the games were installed Monday at Frank’s Lounge, 2234 Green Bay Road, in North Chicago. The video slot machines — Royal Spins and Cherry Chests — attracted a trickle of customers by early evening, one of whom walked away with $15 cash-out, more than doubling his investment.

It seemed fitting that Frank’s, a family-owned fixture in the community since it was built by Jenny and Stanley Frank in 1951, and known for its slate floor and friendliness to sailors and other strangers, is one of the first to offer such a hotly contested and long-in-coming gambling diversion.

“We’re looking at trying to bring in some more revenues,” said Carol Frank, who owns the tavern with husband Mickey Frank.

The armless bandits and the two more on order are a symbol of dogged perseverance by Mickey Frank, who embarked on a process of approvals and purchasing more than three years ago, then had to endure licensing squabbles by various concerns. Businesses that wanted video gambling also had to wait for the state to work the kinks out of a centralized computer system through which it will big-brother the revenue from each machine.

“I’m a little thrilled,” Frank said over lunchtime noise at his bar on Tuesday. “It should help. We get 20 percent of the gross.”

The Canadian-made machines can be fed with coinage as small as a nickel and have a maximum payout of $500, according to Frank, who said the top payout on the first day was $34.

“We’re in a struggling area,“ Carol Frank said. “The city hasn’t had any growth. Very few bars are left. Very few businesses are left. We thought that if we could possibly bring some gaming into this area, people can say North Chicago has something again.”

The city amended an ordinance to allow the machines, according to Mayor Leon Rockingham.

“To me it’s no different than off-track betting or casinos,” Rockingham said. “Gambling is here in the state of Illinois. If there’s an opportunity for some businesses to help improve their bottom line, that’s a good thing.”

Rockingham said the City Council will likely consider whether to tax revenue from the machines.

Carol Frank recalled with a bit of nostalgia the games past generations played at the tavern, like bar bowling, pinball and one of the earliest video games, Space Invaders. She compared Frank’s to “a ghetto ‘Cheers’ where everybody knows somebody.”

In her more than 20 years in the business, Frank has seen some long odds and incredible luck that will prove difficult for a sitter at the slots to match.

One day a young man walked in, ordered a drink and showed his license. “Hey, he has the same name as you,” Frank said she yelled to a bar regular. The regular turned, sized up the new customer and asked: “What’s your mother’s name?” The two turned out to be long-separated father and son.

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