Updated: May 1, 2014 6:19AM
Beyond bars and restaurants, the advent of video gambling has brought a new breed of player to the game
With friendly and inviting names such as Dotty’s, Penny’s Place and Stella’s Place, these cafes bear more of a resemblance to your local Starbucks, with menus that have an emphasis on lighter fare and an alcohol selection that seldom strays beyond beer and wine.
Blackhawk Restaurant Group — which is operating gambling cafes under names including Penny’s Place, Betty’s Bistro and Emma’s Eatery — is going after a “different customer base,” with a clientele that skews more toward women, Mike Thiessen, a partner in the company, said.
Sitting in a Penny’s that opened last month in Crestwood, he said the cafes have “a bit of a softer feel” and appeal to women who, while wanting to gamble, aren’t comfortable at a bar.
Along with Crestwood, Blackhawk has a Penny’s in Hickory Hills and last week received state approval for locations in Chicago Heights and Oak Lawn, with approval pending for a Matteson location.
Targeting a similar type of gambler, Laredo Hospitality Ventures has opened Stella’s Place in Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn, while Dotty’s, operated by Illinois Cafe & Service Co., are open in suburbs including Alsip, Matteson and Oak Forest.
With about 30 now open in the Chicago area, Thiessen said Blackhawk ultimately hopes to have 55 to 60 cafes operating within a few years. The company likes locations in shopping malls — Crestwood is in the Rivercrest shopping center, next to Payless Shoe Source — but finding prime locations in retail centers is challenging, he said.
Overall, the market will be able to support only so many businesses offering video gambling, and “eventually there will be a saturation point, but we’re nowhere near there,” Thiessen said.