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Law firms looking to cash in on new work sparked by a recently enacted Illinois state law expanding the availability of video poker and other games may be waiting a while. The law, passed last month, would allow thousands of new video poker and other games to be set up in the state’s bars and restaurants, fraternal and veterans meeting places, and truck stops. Game owners, manufacturers, distributors and other entities involved in the business will have to be licensed to operate the gaming machines, which cannot be owned by the bars and other locales themselves. That represents a lot of new clients for some winning lawyers. But at a public meeting of the Illinois Gaming Board on Aug. 25, Chairman Aaron Jaffe said he lacks the staff attorneys, technology and other resources to meet the Sept. 1 deadline for the new licensing rules. He said that some 15,000 establishments might set up video gaming. Plus, some local governments in Illinois, including DuPage County and the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, have passed their own laws blocking installation of the machines, and others are considering such laws, according to local news reports. A day before the chairman’s comments, the Chicago-based law firm Ungaretti & Harris made its own opening bid to win some of those new clients. The firm announced a new chairman of its gaming practice group and said partner Michael Ficaro would expand the team in anticipation of the new work. Ficaro, who has practiced in the Illinois gaming arena since 1992 and is a former first assistant attorney general for the state, said he expects the practice group to double in size to as many as seven lawyers. They will help guide establishments through the application process and past the gaming board scrutiny that will be required for approval of a license. “It’s a daunting task for the gaming board,” Ficaro said. “You have a whole new group of people to regulate.” Until Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new law as part of a public works funding package, the state board was charged only with overseeing the operations of 10 riverboat casinos. The new video gaming devices are “a completely different ball game,” Jaffe said at the Aug. 25 meeting. In addition to licensing the myriad owners, manufacturers, distributors and others, the board will need to provide ongoing oversight of the machines. Such surveillance would currently be “impossible,” Jaffe said. “There are a whole slew of new licenses we have to pass out,” said Jaffe, who added that he refuses to rush putting the new rules in place and didn’t give a date by which they would be issued. Other law firms in Chicago that commonly come before the gaming board with business and might be expected to take on new clients in the video gaming area include Mayer Brown and Greenberg Traurig, said Ficaro. “There’s a lot to figure out as to where things are going,” said John Janicik, a partner at Chicago-based Mayer Brown who works on gaming matters. “At the end of the day, I expect there to be more legal business before the gaming board.” Attorneys at Greenberg Traurig who handle gaming issues couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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