Forget gentrification — could new coffee houses provide a place for gambling in Chicago?
They're already popular in some suburbs outside of Chicago. According to the Daily Herald, there are more than 150 cafe "casinos" in Illinois. These are places where customers can receive a caffeine fix while feeding a few dollars into a video slot machine or other arcade-style electronic gambling game.
Some suburbs — like Tinley Park — have recently lifted their gambling bans, allowing the opportunities for businesses like these coffee shops with slot machines to enter. The promise of a new revenue stream makes them a popular with lawmakers. These cafes have generated $211 million for the state over the last two years.
Illinois is seen as a new frontier, as video gambling is new, legalized in 2009. In other parts of the country, it's been around as many as 20 years. These establishments supposedly appeal to curious gamblers who don't find bars comfortable. But it's also a loophole for developers, as the coffeehouses don't serve alcohol, allowing them to more easily set up a space for slots.
Meanwhile, restaurant owners like them because its a new way to attract and retain customers. Some claim they're still hurting after 2007's Cook County smoking ban pushed smokers out of bars and bowling alleys. Arlington Park, the horse-racing track in Northwest Suburban Arlington Heights, has even unsuccessfully petitioned the state for slot machines to help business.
Three companies account for 107, or more than 70 percent, of video cafes in the state. Laredo Hospitality Ventures runs Shelby's and Stella's. Illinois Cafe and Service Company runs Dotty's. A third, Blackhawk Restaurant Group runs Betty's, Penny's, Emma's and Jena's. Yes, it sounds like a sorority roll call.
State lawmakers have worked with the thought that gaming revenues should benefit blighted areas, or communities that need jobs, and that's slowed everything gambling related, from casinos to slot machines. The Daily Herald noted a bill introduced last year into the Illinois State Legislature by state Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat. That measure's goal was to impede video cafes and similar businesses. Cunningham failed to return a call for comment.
Through the years, there's been rumblings of building a casino in Chicago. But save for a few exceptions, including the off-track betting parlor attached to Joe's Bar on Weed Street, gambling's illegal in Chicago.
The same public relations firm represents the three video cafe companies mentioned above. A spokeswoman declined comment on their behalf when asked about the likelihood of opening a video cafe in Chicago. Instead she suggested speaking with City Hall to gauge the temperature of Chicago officials when it came to gambling.
So it looks like that odds are a long shot for video cafes arriving in Chicago anytime soon. At least most coffee shops still offer free WiFi. What do you think — do you feel the need to hit it rich while sipping a latte? Sound off in the comments.