Palos Hills votes against gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Luck wasn’t on the side of video gaming café owners last Thursday in Palos Hills.

City officials voted 5-4 on Oct. 1 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance that would have paved the way for the gaming cafés to come to town. The vote does not impact the city’s current stance of allowing video gaming machines in restaurants.

Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against creating the ordinance while aldermen Pauline Stratton (2nd), Mike Lebarre (3rd), Ricky Moore (4th) and Dawn Nowak (5th) were in favor. Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th) was absent.

“It’s absolutely disappointing,” Nowak, who serves as the chairwoman of the city’s economic development committee, said of the vote. “Those (gaming café owners)are going to go someplace else and give their money to other cities.”

Nowak told the council there are 92 vacancies in town and recent efforts to bring Buona Beef to the corner of 111th Street and Roberts Road proved unsuccessful. Representatives of Laredo Hospitality Ventures, which is the parent company of café casino Stella’s Place, and Durbin’s addressed the council last month expressing interest in operating video gaming cafés in town.

“It’s unacceptable to me (to have 92 vacancies in town),” Nowak told her fellow aldermen. “I’m beating the doors down on businesses and there is not a lot of interest. I’d like to ask you all to try (with gaming cafés) and see where it goes.”

Calling herself a “proponent of small businesses,” Stratton was open to creating the new liquor classification for the gaming cafés.

“Even though the government keeps saying the economy is better it really isn’t,” Stratton said. “This is a trendy situation and we have nothing to lose if the businesses are willing to go forward and try something new.

“I’m not a proponent of gambling, but, if you’re looking at gambling, churches have raffles and bingo – both forms of gambling. If the businesses want to put forth some effort to help themselves and invariably help the city, then I will support it.”

Moore was also in favor of the gaming cafés, noting the city already allows its restaurants the option to have gambling machines.

“First of all, we are not doing or asking for anything that we are not already doing in the city,” Moore said. “It’s a very small footprint. It’s an occupied storefront instead of a vacant storefront. It’s revenue for the city. I wouldn’t have any problem supporting the two (Stella’s and Durbin’s) and seeing how it goes.”

Five restaurants in Palos Hills currently have video gaming terminals that generated a total of $65,000 for the city in 2014, Mayor Gerald Bennett said. Revenue from the machines is broken down four ways with 25 percent going to the state, 5 percent to municipality, 35 percent to the establishment owner and 35 percent to the terminal operator.  

Although there are plenty of vacant storefronts in town, Schultz said she did not support any of them being filled with gaming cafés.

“I don’t understand this. Why would you not want your municipality to be known for a nice place to raise a family as opposed to a nice place to go gambling,” Schultz asked rhetorically. “We have had businesses empty for I can’t tell you how many years and we have survived this. We will survive this. I just think (by allowing gaming cafés)you are opening up a can of beans that I am so vehemently against.”

Kleefisch told the council he has been opposed to video gaming from the beginning and remains opposed to it.

“I’ll go on record as saying I’m not for increasing the liquor licenses for this purpose,” he said. “One of the reasons (I’m against video gaming) is that it’s one of the most addictive forms of gambling. I don’t want to be a part of hurting anyone or their family by giving them another opportunity to lose their money.”

Kleefisch also feared allowing the gaming cafés could damage the city’s reputation.

“I believe the reputation of the city is somewhat tied into video gaming,” he said. “I’m concerned about the reputation of the city. I think we should look for more creative ways to make money for our city and provide services for our citizens other than video gaming.”

Laredo Hospitality Ventures operates nearly 40 gambling cafés in Illinois, including one each in Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Hickory Hills. Nowak said the cafés have had no issues with unruly customers or financial troubles.

“Stella’s has 38 locations with no closures,” Nowak said. “Mayor Bennett has checked with other cities and came back with no problems (pertaining to Stella’s).”

Nowak said she would not be opposed to revisiting the creation of a liquor class for gaming cafés in the future. Bennett noted all it would take is for one member of the council to bring the topic up at a future meeting.

Bennett anticipated the city would not allow more than three or four gambling cafés in the city so voting against it last week was not going to cause Palos Hills to lose a lot of money.

“It wasn’t going to bring in a whole lot of revenue but it would create some revenue,” Bennett said.

“I told the council from the beginning that it’s up to them. If they want to create it that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their choice.”