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City fails to OK alternative video gaming locations

Thatcher proposed Java Jills as coffee shops with gambling

A business described as a "Starbucks that has gaming machines," failed to win approval from the Morris City Council Monday.

A liquor license is required in order for a business to have gaming machines, so the Judiciary and License Committee looked at a recommendation to add two more Class E liquor licenses for two "Java Jills" establishments. Class E is for beer and wine only.

The recommendation did not make it out of committee, however, because there were only two members present, each voting the opposite way. Alderman Don Hansen brought the issue before the council anyway to be fair, he said, instead of having it die at committee due to there not being enough members.

Donald Thatcher of Crowne Point Amusement wanted to open a Java Jills at 100 W. Commercial Drive, Suite 2, and another at 425 East U.S. 6. The businesses would basically be coffee shops with gaming machines.

The goal is to offer an alternative setting for people who like to play the gaming machines, but don't want to sit in a bar.

"If I didn't have to have alcohol, I wouldn't," Thatcher said.

Thatcher said he has already been paying rent at the facilities he was looking to open and has spent more than $10,000 on the businesses. He planned to hire 12 positions that would pay between $12 and $20 an hour.

"I've invested a lot here. I'm not asking, I'm begging," he said.

The state legislature approved the Video Gaming Act in 2009, but it was delayed due to legal issues that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Illinois Gaming Board is now taking applications, but establishments cannot be given a license if its municipality does not legalize video gaming machines as well. Morris legalized them in May.

Liquor-licensed establishments, such as bars and restaurants, and truck stops and fraternal and veterans organizations can apply for the licenses. The applicant must be a liquor license holder.

Alderman Drew Muffler said he voted against this request in committee because he received numerous calls from local businesses against Java Jills, but had not received one positive call. Muffler said he had to listen to the taxpayers.

Thatcher said he understood, but that he was looking to bring more tax dollars into the community. The businesses objecting are probably bars, he said, but he is not looking to compete with the bars. His establishment is unique and, therefore, has little competition locally, he said.

"What keeps the Dunkin Donuts or Brewed Awakenings or other (similar) businesses in town from coming and asking for the same thing," asked Alderman Randy Larson.

"That's for you guys to regulate," answered Thatcher.

Alderman Bill Martin shared Larson's opinion and feared the city would be "opening a door."

Alderman Julian Houston also said it was nothing personal against Thatcher, but that he believed in supporting the local businesses that were already here. Thatcher said this practice would keep other businesses from coming to Morris.

Hansen argued that bringing in new businesses spurs economic development.

Audience member Jim Jennings told the council there are many applicants in the city of Morris applying with the state for permits to have gaming machines.

"(Thatcher) said he's not trying to compete with the bars, but currently there are 23 gaming applications in the city of Morris, so there are more applicants than there are bars," said Jennings. "One is Lindy-Gerties (which is in the same plaza) where he's going in, so there is direct competition."

Since Hansens's motion to add two more liquor licenses was not seconded it died, and, therefore, no action could be taken to award the licenses to Java Jills.

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