As video gambling expands, Oak Lawn officials question where it will end
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com February 13, 2014 8:12PM
Sandi DiGangi, shown in December, wants to have video gambling machines so she can expand Big Pappa's Gyros in Oak Lawn. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2014 2:13AM
The Oak Lawn Village Board this week approved a new liquor license which will eventually lead to gambling machines at a fast food restaurant on busy Cicero Avenue, but the decision was not easily reached.
Nor was it unanimous.
The board, by a 3-to-2 vote, approved awarding a liquor license for beer and wine to Sandi DiGangi, who owns Big Pappa’s Gyros, 10806 Cicero Ave.
What may seem like a simple legality was not. Trustees Terry Vorderer, 4th, and Mike Carberry, 6th, debated long and hard against approving the liquor license which will eventually — and much to their chagrin — have folks feeding gambling machines money while they feed themselves gyros, hot dogs or burgers in the cozy 16-seat Big Pappa’s restaurant.
“I have a concern where we’re going to limit liquor licenses and poker machines,” Vorderer said. “What if we get a request from a nail place? I’ve decided I’ll limit myself at fast-food restaurants and I have to vote ‘no.’”
Oak Lawn has 28 bars and restaurants with video gambling machines, and two are pending, not counting Big Pappas, village officials said.
Nevertheless, allowing liquor licenses and, eventually, gambling machines in fast food places such as Big Pappa’s “is taking us down the wrong slope,” Vorderer said.
Carberry, in whose district the business sits, said he also had to vote against the request, “until we get something figured out with what we’re going to do with these (gambling) machines.”
Trustees Tim Desmond, 1st, Alex Olejniczak, 2nd, and Carol Quinlan, 5th, voted for the request. Trustee Bob Streit, 3rd, was not at the board meeting for personal reasons.
Quinlan said she voted in favor of the liquor license, knowing it will lead to gambling machines, “because the bottom line is it’s legal.”
“We’ve been talking about this since last spring,” Quinlan said of the debate over which establishments should or should not have gambling machines.
Olejniczak said a lot of other communities throughout the state “are going through the same issues,” adding, “it’s kind of a hot potato with the rest of the elected officials in Springfield.”
Village board attorney Paul O’Grady said state Sen. Bill Cunningham is working on a bill in Springfield that would allow municipalities to limit the number of gambling licenses.
“It’s not just a straight cap. It needs a little work. It has a zoning component. We’ve been in contact with the Illinois Municipal League and (limiting gaming licenses) may open us up to litigation,” O’Grady said.
DiGangi said she intends to try bringing in gambling machines after she gets the liquor license. If her name and the name of her business rings a bell, they should. For the fourth straight Christmas, she, her family, friends, workers and volunteers prepared Christmas Day dinners for those down on their luck.
“I’m only looking to bring in beer and wine. I’m looking to expand myself a bit there. I hope in two years to double my storefront,” she said. “I’ve been there five years and I’ve stayed in Oak Lawn because I fell in love with the community.”
She plans to sell wine coolers and bottled beer and won’t sell draft beer or hard liquor.
Mayor Sandra Bury noted that DiGangi made the request in order to have money needed to expand her business, something that Desmond said was the intention of allowing gambling machines in the first place.
Quinlan stressed that the whole idea of allowing gambling machines is intended to help small business owners.
“The bottom line is it’s legal. It’s an okay thing to do. Until such time changes ... a flower shop down the road can have gaming machines, for example. This is needed to have a successful business. I don’t see how you can deny it,” Quinlan said.
“They’re looking to expand and it’s not going to happen unless they get these. What bothers me more is the neon signs that you see in windows, flashing signs like a mini-Vegas. I have an issue with those, but this is to help businesses when times are tough,” Quinlan said.
Vorderer, however, could not be convinced to change his opposition to the liquor license that would open the door to more gambling in Oak Lawn.
“If we grant this one, I don’t know if we can stop anybody. What if White Castle asks for a liquor license? Where do we draw the line?” Vorderer said. “I appreciate the fine work this young woman does. I gave up my Christmas Day delivering food (for Big Pappa’s). They do provide revenue, but I have to draw the line somewhere.”