(Photo by Ken Ross)
A change in Iowa law has created a hot attraction during a slow time of the year for the bar business, according to Ben Jobe, owner of Jobe's Pastime Lounge.
Casino style slot machines, once restricted in Iowa to riverboats and American Indian owned facilities, have appeared, with restrictions, in such landlocked, American Indian deficient counties such as Cherokee County.
The restrictions are still fairly extensive. There are a maximum of four machines under one roof and only two locations in Cherokee have four, the Pastime and the Kum & Go on East Main Street.
Pay-out is with a paper receipt that is cashed out on the premise up to $600 with amounts of up to the $1,000 Blazing 7s jackpot at the Pastime redeemed at the Iowa Lottery office in Storm Lake.
The Kum & Go has four Club Oasis machines which are a slower paced touchscreen machine with games similar to non-gambling touchscreen machines found in some businesses, particularly bars. Although the potential pay-out is smaller in the Club Oasis games, the potential loss is lower also.
Jobe said that it was estimated $20 would last about 20 minutes of play, with the being less or more, depending on the luck of the player, and of course there are occasions when a player hits it big. As of Thursday last week, Jobe reported 22 $1,000 jackpot winners after six weeks of play.
To win the $1,000 jackpot, the maximum bet has to be placed, 27 nickels, $1.35. The machine takes $1, $5, $10 or $20 bills.
Jobe said that all four machines are almost constantly being played, often with players waiting. The machines are leased by the Iowa Lottery from Balley's Machine Company of Reno Nevada, that provides maintenance. They are connected by dedicated phone line to the Iowa Lottery in Des Moines. Every transaction at every machine throughout the state is on record, including time, location and result of play.
The payback for the business owner where the machines are located is supposed to range between 10 and 12 percent of net profits, according to Jobe.
"This time of year, we're usually begging for customers," Jobe said. He said the machines have definitely added to his business profits.
He added that it's good for the state's budget. The change in law that went into effect as of July 1 is expected to add $24 million in state government revenue per year.
Railings had to be added around the playing area. No one under 21 is allowed in the playing area whether they are playing or not. There is also a security camera monitoring and recording the machines constantly.
Jobe said there was an instance when a person left a ticket in the machine and he was able to refund the $37 to the player by viewing the tape and matching the time of the winning ticket with the time on the tape at that machine.
Jobe acknowledges that gambling, like many other activities, can be an addiction, but there are also many social gamblers who enjoy responsible gambling as a recreational activity.
He noted that there is another potential addictive behavior that the gambling revenue might help the bar owner avoid. He said that rather than desperately needing every bit of revenue from drinkers, alternative profit gives the bar owner the opportunity to use better judgment in when to serve inebriated customers.