Des Plaines could be the latest suburb to allow video gambling, a potentially risky and “awkward” decision for a city that’s home to Rivers Casino, officials say.
At least three of eight aldermen indicated support for video gambling Monday night, as numerous business owners and residents filled city hall to ask permission to install the machines in their bars, restaurants and fraternal organizations. Aldermen did not make a decision, but asked city staff to research the topic for future discussion.
Business owners say video gambling could help them remain competitive as surrounding communities allow the machines.
Scott Ward, owner of Tap House Grill in the city’s Metropolitan Square, said the restaurant chain’s other suburban locations with video gambling have grown revenues because customers stay longer to eat and drink while playing the machines.
“I thought it would bring a bad element, and that’s what I think a lot of the residents in the towns thought was going to happen, and it absolutely did not happen,” Ward said.
Neighboring towns that allow video gambling include Mount Prospect, Elk Grove Village and Prospect Heights, as well as unincorporated Cook County.
However, none of those communities are home to a casino, an industry that’s eroded in Illinois while thousands of video gambling machines are switched on in bars and restaurants across the state.
The city of Des Plaines and Rivers Casino have a cozy relationship of late. The casino agreed last year to stake the city up to $2 million to help buy and renovate the Des Plaines Theatre. Reopening the theater is the biggest part of the city’s plan to revitalize downtown with new restaurants, bars and other businesses.
Sixth Ward Alderman Malcolm Chester contends that it’s unfair to ban video gambling for the city’s small businesses.
“We want our small businesses to survive,” Chester said. “We want them to be competitive with neighboring communities.”
A spokesman for Rivers Casino did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.
Some aldermen worry that allowing video gambling could have negative political and financial ramifications with the state.
Eighth Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz said that if another casino is approved for Chicago or elsewhere, Des Plaines could lobby for “concessions” from the state as one of the cities with an existing casino. That may be more difficult if the city allows video gambling, he said.
“Des Plaines is in a very awkward position in a way,” Charewicz said.
Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookman asked business owners for patience as the city decides.
“It’s incumbent on us to do our due diligence,” Brookman said. “It has far-reaching ramifications — financial ramifications.”