Video gambling going mainstream
by bob okon firstname.lastname@example.org February 9, 2013 1:58AM
Owner Daisy Slaboszewski (left) and Bryan Nyssen (right) stand next to video gambling machines in Hot Pan Noodles & Dumplings Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, at 2302 Essington Rd. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:27AM
Video gambling is growing, and it will be moving closer to potential customers in Joliet this year.
Gamblers in December wagered $900,000 at video poker machines at seven Joliet bars and restaurants. It’s a number that has been growing since video gambling started in September and more bars have been getting the machines.
And, it’s a number that’s likely to keep growing, not only because more bars will get the machines. A new breed of business is being brought to Joliet to attract people, women in particular, who may not go into casinos or bars to gamble.
These storefront gambling parlors will have the names Betty’s Bistro, Penny’s Place and Bonny’s with the apparent aim of attracting female customers. All of them will go into shopping centers with supermarkets. They will typically feature sandwich menus and serve beer and wine.
“They’re very upscale sandwich shops,” said Michael Hansen, a Joliet attorney representing a group that plans to open six storefront gambling parlors in Joliet and another in Crest Hill.
Hansen said the Blackhawk Restaurant Group, an Oabrook Terrace-based company created by an Oregon-based group to open video gambling bistros in Illinois, sees a market for the business in the Joliet area “that can really take off.” But the group is opening video gambling bistros in many areas of Illinois and other states that legalize video gambling, Hansen said.
The Joliet City Council last week approved three liquor licenses for the Blackhawk Restaurant Group at storefronts located outside the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Jefferson Street, near the Dominck’s store on Essington Road, and close to the newly opened Tony’s Finer Foods on Route 59.
Two days later, the city held a liquor hearing for Bonny’s, another storefront gambling parlor. Two Chicago businessmen want to open Bonny’s in the North Ridge Plaza, which includes the Ultra Foods store along Larkin Avenue. The Bonny’s license will go to the city council for a vote on March 4.
This new breed of video gambling does have one predecessor in Joliet.
Hot Pan, an Asian restaurant, has two video gambling machines in its storefront location a few doors down from a Dairy Queen. The restaurant is in the same Dominick’s-anchored shopping center where Blackhawk plans to open a Betty’s Bistro.
Unlike Betty’s Bistro, Hot Pan was already in business before video gambling became legal. And, the machines so far serve more as a sideline than the main attraction. The machines arrived in November, said Bryan Nyssen at Hot Pan, and gambling has grown slowly as people become aware that it’s there.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in and just drop $5 while they’re waiting for their carryout,” Nyssen said. Others will play while eating their dinner at the restaurant. Not many come in just to gamble, Nyssen said, but he does not mind if they do.
“We’ve got a few people who come in and don’t even by a drink. That’s OK,” he said.
The restaurant or bar that hosts the machines gets 35 percent of the profit, or gambler’s losses,
“So far, this has not been a substantial contributor to our income,” Nyssen said.
According to Illinois Gaming Board numbers, gamblers wagered $8,214 at Hot Pan in December, the most recent numbers available. Out of that amount, $1,089 was lost on the machines. Thirty percent of those losses were taxed. The remainder was profit split evenly between Hot Pan and the company that operates the machines.
The biggest video gambling location in Joliet now is Izzy’s, a bar on Theodore Street that became a test site for the machines and was one of the first in Illinois to get them.
Gamblers wagered $418,000 at the five machines at Izzy’s in December. The customers won $391,000, leaving $27,000 for profits and taxes.
Owner Alfonso “Izzy” Izquierdo said some new customers have come to his bar for video poker. But mostly, the regulars play the machines.
The extra income from the machines “is important to me,” he said, because it helps pay the bills and get ahead. I can survive without them. But it’s nice to have the extra to get ahead.”
Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante, also the city’s liquor commissioner, said many bars in town operate on slim profit margins. So, he has made it a policy not to allow the new bistro-style gambling parlors in the same strip mall where another bar is operating.
The mayor has heard from two other business people interested in opening storefront gambling bistros in Joliet. They have had trouble finding the right location, however.
“You’re right, they are earmarked to women,” Giarrante said. “That’s what I’ve been told by the people who have been in my office.”