WEST FRANKFORT — For the second month in a row, the West Frankfort City Council voted to expand its Class A liquor licenses in an effort to accommodate more businesses wishing to have electronic gaming.
The council sat Tuesday afternoon for a special meeting in order to hear proposals from several local businesses on how gaming would not only help their business, but also the city.
Seven of these businesses were brought before the council Tuesday night for a vote. West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan said Circle K, Russell Oil Company, developer Richard Glodich, Casey’s West, Heights Market and Roll ‘n up were all awarded licenses after the council voted to expand the number of licenses from 10, where they had voted last month to cap them, to 15. He said Vault 87 vape shop was denied its request for a license.
Councilwoman Tara Chambers said the business owners of Vault 87 wanted to develop the space next to its downtown location in order to have a stand-alone gaming parlor — a decision the city was not too keen on. Chambers and Jordan said Vault 87 has been in town just four months and only rents a building in town. During last month’s debate the decision was made to hinge the criteria on awarding liquor licenses on how much investment the business has made or will make in town.
By state law, establishments that have electronic gaming also must have a Class A liquor license.
Jordan said he knows the unanimous decision to again increase the number of liquor licenses and to approve six new businesses was not popular with some, especially those who own establishments that already have gaming. However, he said after much debate, city officials said it gave some businesses an unfair competitive advantage over other, similar businesses by having it.
“We just want to make sure that everybody has a chance,” Jordan said.
Chambers said she had to check her personal opinions at the door and focus on the well-being of West Frankfort businesses.
“Personally I don’t love video gaming, period. That's not something I’m a huge fan of personally but the reality of where we are in the world is that this is a trending business model. This is the next thing that convenience stores and other establishments are going to, to increase their revenue,” she said.
Greg Peebles, owner of Pups 212 Bar and Grill in West Frankfort, had a gaming license before the recent expansions and said he disagrees with the council’s assessment of what gaming can do for West Frankfort.
“It’s not going to save the city,” Peebles said. He said diversity of businesses is what should be focused on.
“They need something besides more establishments that have gaming and liquor to build West Frankfort,” he said.
Bobby Whittington, owner of Casino Tavern in West Frankfort’s downtown, said he thinks more than doubling the licenses in town could actually do the opposite of what the council hoped it would for local businesses.
“The pie can only be cut so many ways,” Whittington said of what he sees as a limited amount of gaming customers in town and the potential negative impact on businesses already offering video gaming in town.
For his business specifically, he said the impact could be particularly bad.
“My gaming is what keeps my doors open,” he said, adding that if his gaming machines were taken out, his bar would close in a week. He said if gaming declines in a business, the company that rents the machines can opt to remove some machines.
Whittington said he saw the writing on the wall that his business might be hurt by liquor license expansions in town and decided to put his bar up for sale about a month ago. He said he has had a few parties interested in it, but fears this second expansion could hurt his offers because some were interested in the business specifically because of gaming.
Jordan said he knew that some businesses could be hurt by the expansions, but he said he has to think long-term about the future of the city. He said if people are willing to come and invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in town, that has to be weighed against a potential dip in business for some established places in West Frankfort.
Ultimately, he and the council decided these expansions were in the city’s best interest. However, he and Chambers stopped short of saying whether they would consider making another increase to the number of licenses in the coming months should more businesses come forward to ask for a seat at the table.
“Hopefully we are done with it for a while,” Jordan said of adding more liquor licenses.
Chambers said she would have to hear each businesses proposal on a case-by-case basis.