Video gaming machines have been up and running in St. Clair County for a week now and the results are unknown -- so far.
But bar owners are encouraged.
"There have been people in here I have never seen before playing machines," said Junior Frentzel, owner of No-Jacks Bar & Grill in Smithton, which he says was the bar in St. Clair County to get its machines activated Oct. 18.
He is hailing his two machines as saviors, something to revive a moribund business.
"With the way the bar business is now, it's the only thing to save bars," Frentzel said. "People have been really curious."
After only a few days there is no discernible pattern in how the machines will be played. He has had a few groups of people come in and play and a few loners, he said.
His place is open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday and until 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday. He has had people play at all hours including a few after midnight.
Frentzel estimated he had paid out $1,200 in winnings in the first six days the machines were working.
"I don't know about losses," he said. "They only give us the tickets when they win." He hasn't received any information from the state about revenue.
The machines are controlled by the Illinois Gaming Board and are hooked together online like Illinois state lottery terminals are. The state gets 25 percent of the revenue with 5 percent going to the municipality or county where the machine operates. The owner and any operator divide the rest of the take.
Several people who were eating lunch on Wednesday at No-Jacks said they weren't planning on playing the games although some had before.
But obviously some people are playing. On Thursday, Gary Riley of Dupo put in a $10 bill and played poker for several minutes before losing his stake during the noon hour.
He and a friend were waiting for their food when he started playing. He said he has played similar machines at casinos in the area but seldom bets large amounts.
Frentzel might be the poster boy for one of the things opponents say is wrong with the machines.
"I won $94 on my first spin," Frentzel said. "I gave it all back."
Opponents also cite increased crime, gambling addiction and moral issues in opposing the machines.
Belleville voters will decide whether to allow the machines in a binding referendum on the November ballot. Collinsville also is voting but its referendum is advisory and not binding. St. Clair County allows the machines because an ordinance it passed years ago said it is OK in the county if the state approves.
No-Jacks has two more machines scheduled to come online Friday and will get one more before the end of the year, Frentzel said. The law limits an establishment to five machines. The machines are in a roped off area. Patrons must be 21 to play and have a valid picture ID to cash in any winnings.
Frentzel said a gaming company from Chicago installed his machines, which cost $15,000 a piece, in return for a cut of the revenue.
Cari Maloney, bar manager, said she won $30 the other day. On Wednesday she put in $5, played the slots for a few minutes and cashed out $3.
Frentzel fed a $20 bill into one machine and played draw poker. Despite winning several hands, within two minutes he had lost his stake.
He said he can understand both sides but people are going to gamble.
"I don't feel any bad vibes when I sit here and gamble," he said. "It's no different than going to a casino."
Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org