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Some towns won't push their luck with gambling cafes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recent failed attempts to allow video gambling cafés in Palos Hills, and open a new café in Chicago Ridge, may be an indication that local communities are losing interest in them.

At the Palos Hills City Council meeting on Oct. 1, aldermen voted 5 to 4 against creating a special liquor license for the businesses that would allow them to sell beer and wine and require them to serve food. The license would have come with a $1,800 annual fee.

              But the promise of tax revenue did not sway a majority of the aldermen to allow the small cafes, which usually have a woman's name as part of their name — and cater to women who would rather go into a cozy diner to gamble than a bar. But critics say that their business model focuses too much on gambling.

               Unlike Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge does allow video cafés, as do Hickory Hills, Oak Lawn and Worth. Many suburbs allow the cafes, including nearby Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn. Evergreen Park only allows video gambling at one location in town, the American Legion Post 854 at 9701 S. Kedzie Ave., while Palos Heights and Palos Park prohibit it altogether.

But at the Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting on Oct. 6, trustees voted 5-1 against allowing a request to open a Lacey’s Place gaming café in a vacant storefront at 10725 S. Ridgeland Ave.

“We do not like seeing vacant spaces. But how many video gaming places is too many? There is no easy answer,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar. It was pointed out that the village already allows video gambling at 19 locations in the village, including at the McDonnell-Linn VFW Post down the street, at 10537 S. Ridgeland, as well as at the Stella’s Place gaming café in Chicago Ridge Commons, about a mile south on Ridgeland.

The mayor said he was told by the owners of Stella’s Place that many mothers stop in there to try their luck after dropping their kids off at school.

Trustee Amanda Cardin said she did not want the village to become “the gaming capital of the southwest suburbs.”

               Oak Lawn has more video gaming establishments than Chicago Ridge, include a few gambling cafés such as Stella’s Place, at 8759 S. Ridgeland. But officials there also have expressed reservations of allowing any more.

“The reason we wanted video gambling licenses was to benefit our existing businesses. But it has gotten out of hand,” said Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) this week.

“I don’t have a problem if people want to spend their discretionary income on gambling. But I do have an issue with the business model of the gaming cafés, which focuses more on gambling than anything else,” he said.

Worth Trustee Colleen McEvoy, who chairs the Economic Development Committee on the Board of Trustees, said she would not be interested in adding to the two gaming cafés, Elsie’s and Dottie’s, already in the village.

“But Worth is not a home-rule community, so we are limited in deciding what we can allow in,” she explained, noting that they have to go by what the state allows.

“We have a lot of existing restaurants that I would like to see people going to, rather than bringing in more gambling cafes,” said McElroy, who is working on attracting more businesses to 111th Street and Harlem Avenue, the village’s two main thoroughfares.

She noted that the village’s Economic Development Commission is inviting residents to a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Village Hall at 7112 W. 111th St. McElroy said concept photos will be available of proposed plans, and residents may make suggestions.