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Kadner: Gambling cafes coming near you

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Updated: September 12, 2013 10:39AM



When Illinois decided to allow video gambling in bars, restaurants and veterans halls that serve liquor, lawmakers apparently opened the door for an entirely new type of business in this state — video gambling

cafes.

These are establishments whose primary purpose isn’t to serve food or alcoholic beverages but to cater primarily to people who want to gamble.

“We approved video gambling in our village to help our businesses that were struggling to survive,” said Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, who noted she was not mayor when the village board approved video

gambling. “These businesses needed the additional revenue generated by the video games to keep their doors open in a difficult economy.

“But there’s something new going on, we can see it growing, and these are new businesses that want to come into town and their primary purpose is gambling,” Bury said. “I’m concerned about that because the way the state law is written right now we have no control over how many of them there are.”

The most prominent name in the video cafe industry is Dotty’s Cafe, which began in Oregon in 1992 and spread to Nevada and Montana. There are about 150 operating in the three states.

Dan Fischer, the company’s chief executive, has moved his family to Illinois and plans to open 150 Dotty’s Cafes in the state, about 15 being already built.

“Unlike traditional casino operations, which often encourage alcohol consumption, Dotty’s Cafe’s offers a relaxing environment where alcohol isn’t the main draw,” states a news release by the company. “In fact, consumption of coffee and soda outpaces alcohol by a factor of twenty-to-one.”

The decor is described as “country kitchen,” with knickknacks on shelves, a fireplace and rustic flower arrangements. Female patrons over 35 are most comfortable at Dotty’s, according to a brochure, although all customers over 21 are welcomed.

Beverages include wine and bottled beer, but no hard liquor. Dotty’s Cafe offers a large variety of tea selections, as well as coffee, bottled water and juices.

Food choices include a variety of breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and bagels. For lunch there are hot dogs, corn dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, personal pizzas, chicken tenders and a barbecue rib sandwich, among others.

The problem is two-fold the way Bury sees it — the new gambling businesses are likely to eat away at the video profits of existing local bars and restaurants and they will create a new category of businesses that specialize in “casino-style” gambling.

“Every establishment that gets a liquor license can apply for a video gambling license, which is

controlled by the Illinois Gaming Board,” Bury said. “We (village) have the authority to issue liquor licenses, and we are certainly trying to control the number, but those laws also have their restrictions.

“You have to be fair to every business. And we wouldn’t want to deny a liquor license to a nice restaurant that would add value to our village. What we need is something that will allow us to restrict or control the number of businesses that offer video gambling.”

State Sen. William Cunningham (D-Chicago), whose district includes Oak Lawn, said he’s willing to consider writing legislation that would give municipalities such power.

“This concept of gambling cafes is something new to me, so I’m just beginning to look into it,” Cunningham said. “But it does seem reasonable to give municipalities some local control over how many establishments can offer video gambling.

“You wouldn’t want to give local communities control over who can and who cannot qualify for a video gambling license. That is properly in the hands of the Illinois Gaming Board, and that’s where it should stay. Giving municipalities control over that process could create a different series of problems.

“But letting a municipality set a limit on the number of businesses that can have video gambling licenses seems reasonable to me. I think it’s something at least worth exploring, and I would be interested in

introducing such legislation.”

Dotty’s Cafe has been so successful in Nevada that Station Casinos, which cater primarily to local gamblers, has tried to get regulations passed restricting Dotty’s operations.

In Nevada, Dotty’s are often located in strip malls, and the company’s brochure boasts about the cafes’ ability to drive consumer traffic.

In addition to Oak Lawn, Dotty’s Cafe is apparently looking at locations in Crestwood, Matteson, Oak Forest, Worth and Lemont.

Even before Dotty’s came around looking for sites, Denise Roll, the owner of a flower shop in Oak Lawn, recognized the power of marketing gambling at women.

She opened the Avenue Flower Shop and Wine Bar, 10632 Cicero Ave., and after getting a gambling license her previously struggling flower shop became a hotbed of customer activity.

In fact, of the 17 businesses approved for video gambling in Oak Lawn, statistics from June and July show that Roll’s five video gambling machines pulled in more money than all but one, Les Brothers Restaurant.

“I’m concerned about the societal impacts of gambling,” Bury said. “There’s a cost for all of this, both to the community and to families. I think we have to be very careful about how this spreads.

“It just seems there’s something wrong to me about stopping by a gambling parlor before you go to work for some breakfast.”

Cunningham said he has no objection to the expansion of gambling but does believe towns ought to be able to control its spread.

“They need the power at some point to say we have enough gambling venues in our town,” Cunningham said. “That’s what I am interested in.

“As a business model, Dotty’s seems like a good idea. I can understand why women might want to stop in a place like that rather than go to a sports bar. It’s certainly an interesting concept, and I would be interested in hearing more about it.”

It seems to me that once a state decides gambling is legal, the marketplace should determine who offers the best product to the consumer. I always objected to the state limiting the number of casino licenses to 10, basically giving a few connected people a license to make millions of dollars.

Marketing a gambling venue to women makes a lot of sense to me. It’s safe, well lit and wives and mothers don’t have to worry about getting hit on by drunken slobs as they pour their kids’ college funds into the slots.

It sounds like a great addition to our suburban culture.

Personally, I’d like to see some card rooms sprout up where a gentleman and his associates can sit down and play a few hands of Texas Hold ‘Em while discussing business and political affairs.

But I guess poker involves too much skill and doesn’t produce a big enough profit for the businesses that prey on the chumps. So poker isn’t legal in the suburbs — unless it’s a “charity” event.



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