East Peoria – City officials have effectively shut down a licensed video gambling operation at Huck’s Food and Fuel while they try to determine how the convenience store and gas station got a license approved by the state in the first place.
The Illinois Gaming Board approved the Huck’s license application, along with 217 others statewide, at its March 26 meeting under the provisions of the Illinois Gaming Act that allow video gambling at truck stops. The city asserts that Huck’s, 101 Farmdale Road, fails to meet almost all of the criteria that the gaming board requires to designate a business a truck stop. It is preparing to file for declaratory action against the gaming board and the store’s owners to get the license revoked.
“It absolutely is not a truck stop,” said Michael Tibbs, the city’s attorney working on the video gambling matter. “It’s a run-of-the-mill convenience store and gas station. There are 10 other convenience stores in the city that are functionally identical to this Huck’s.”
Huck’s begs to differ.
“After a thorough and careful review of the Huck’s video gambling application, as well as any objections received from the city of East Peoria, the Illinois Gaming Board correctly determined that the (Farmdale Road) location satisfies all four of the (truck stop) requirements and issued Huck’s a Video Gaming Establishment License,” wrote Huck’s attorney Douglas Ramsey in a letter to the city’s attorney earlier this month.
State law allows video gambling in taverns, fraternal organizations and truck stops, but not in convenience stores. To receive a “truck stop” designation, the state gaming board requires that the business occupy a minimum of 3 acres, sell at least 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel per month, have separate diesel islands for fueling commercial motor vehicles and have parking spaces for commercial motor vehicles.
The city maintains that the Huck’s property is less than 3 acres, that its one diesel pump with two hoses does not satisfy the “separate diesel islands” requirement and that there is no designated on-site parking for commercial motor vehicles. It conceded the sale of 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month requirement after it received a document that showed sales of 15,001, 12,692 and 13,050 gallons of diesel fuel in January, February and March of this year, respectively.
While the Huck’s on Farmdale Road doesn’t really pass the truck stop eye test — it looks like any Huck’s anywhere — perhaps the city’s most compelling argument is its contention that the business is on less than 3 acres of land. Huck’s leases the 1.6 acre parcel it physically occupies with its convenience store, gas pumps and car wash. Both sides agree on that.
But Huck’s maintains it also leases an additional 1.75 acre parcel of contiguous farmland, bringing the total amount of leased property to 3.42 acres. The gaming board approved the video gambling license based in part on the information that the applicant’s property exceeded the minimum size requirement.
The city maintains that the information Huck’s provided the gaming board was not only bogus, it was purposefully deceitful. The lease agreement clearly spells out that Huck’s cannot build anything on the adjacent property and that the owner may “continue to farm the premises throughout the initial term or any option term of this lease.”
In an April 14 letter to the gaming board urging it to reconsider its approval of the gambling license, Tibbs wrote:
“A brief visit to the Huck’s facility by one of the (gaming) inspectors would readily confirm the applicant’s deception. It seems inconceivable that the gaming board, once made aware of the fictitious nature of the lease agreement … would tolerate such a blatant and shameless misrepresentation.”
The city has been effectively able to keep video gambling terminals shut off in the month since Huck’s received its gaming license. It has put on hold any inspection of the electrical and structural work the business did in preparation of video gambling, work that was begun before anyone applied for the necessary permits.
“It is unlawful to utilize any of the improvements, including the electrical connections, until the city has conducted the final inspection,” Tibbs wrote to Huck’s on April 2.
The city won’t inspect the work until after the legal questions about the gaming license have been answered, Tibbs said. The City Council authorized the pursuit of legal action against Huck’s and the Illinois Gaming Board at a meeting earlier this month.
“It’s clearly not a truck stop and the fact is this process has been inconsistent with reality, and frankly, that is sort of annoying,” said Mayor Dave Mingus. “Because of the proximity of the Huck’s facility to residential areas, the city of East Peoria will not under any circumstances permit its operation as a truck stop.”
Ramsey, the attorney representing Huck’s, wrote to the city saying the business remains committed to hosting video gambling terminals at its East Peoria location. It has obtained a valid gaming license from the gambling board and will seek to enforce all of its rights under Illinois law, the letter reads.
By phone Ramsey said: “Clearly Huck’s has been a good partner with the city and wants to continue to be a good partner with the city. It has been a little frustrating after getting license approval and not being able to provide video gaming. They’re just interested in getting the legal issues behind them.”