The Batavia City Council during its Sept. 19 meeting voted 9-4 to allow Wilson Street Tavern to install four video gambling machines. Alderwoman Abby Beck was absent.
“When we brought up and set up the rules that we have for video gaming licenses, Wilson Street Tavern was one of the ones that talked about the need for that for businesses that were there,” Alderman Alan Wolff said. “They did not, however, have the license. They are now asking for one.”
Aldermen Tony Malay, Mark Uher, Dan Chanzit and Keenan Miller voted against the gaming license approval, and some of them voiced their concerns at the meeting.
“This is not what we want our town to be known for,” Uher said. “While some do it for pure entertainment, the machines are designed to take money from people, period. And they take money from vulnerable people.”
Uher said two of the largest sources of video gambling revenue in Batavia were adjacent to a lower-income area.
The sentiment was echoed by Chanzit, who said he had become opposed to allowing the permit after reconsidering.
“My views on this have evolved,” Chanzit said. “I initially did favor opening this up so we could give every resource possible to our business community. I do recognize that these machines are referred to as the crack cocaine of the gambling industry. They are absolutely targeted.
“That said, the timing of an existing Batavia business owner coming forward and wanting one is very difficult for me to penalize that I have previously approved coming forward today and wanting one.”
Wilson Street Tavern has been open since 2012, according to meeting documents.
“This is a very complicated issue,” Alderman Leah Leman said. “I think it’s unfair to [owner Mark] Hogan to have been part of the initial part of this discussion and have advocated for this for his business originally and then now for the council to have voted yes for these other businesses and have passed it for our town and to tell him no for his business when he was one of the initiators for this.”
On Aug. 17, Hogan discussed the necessity of video gambling for restaurants during a public hearing held by the Batavia Plan Commission.
“We’ve met all the conditional use requirements and have been in town 10 years,” Hogan said. “I think we’ve been a pretty good asset to the city and we’re just requesting at this time because it feels like the time to do it.”
Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said Wilson Street Tavern has no prior issues with the city.
“Many people do step over the line at some point and time but [Wilson Street Tavern] seems to have been watching things pretty closely,” he said.
Batavia will receive a profit from the machines as part of the ordinance, according to documents.
“I understand Mr. Hogan’s reasoning, and in this specific case I think this is the right kind of use for this,” Alderman Sarah Vogelsinger said. “I’m excited to have more conversation about this because I completely understand where Alderman Uher, Malay and Chanzit are coming from.”
Wilson Street Tavern would be the ninth business in Batavia to receive a video gambling license.