In the Spotlight: Casino cafes aren’t good for local economies
By Dave Zickar
Posted Apr. 17, 2015 at 7:35 PM
Updated Apr 17, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Corporations have quietly been opening hundreds of casino cafes in neighborhoods across the state over the past several months. Just 10 corporations are operating 185 cafes already, and they’ve announced plans to open hundreds more.
The spread of casino cafes is an unintended consequence of the Video Gaming Act that is undermining its intent and integrity. Casino cafes are not taverns or restaurants but gaming businesses. In other states where cafes metastasized, slot income was reportedly more than 90 percent of their annual business.
These cafes are a threat to the small businesses owners of bars and restaurants and those who run VFWs and American Legion Halls. We are concerned because when customers go to a casino cafe, they aren’t visiting our establishments to buy a meal or a beverage; rather, they’re putting their money into corporate slot machines that ship the revenue out of East Peoria.
This gaming entertainment is readily available at the more than 4,000 legitimate bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal orders licensed in the state. Casino cafes are the lowest form of hospitality business possible. They offer a minimal menu, operate out of a small storefront and have just enough staff to keep the lights on and the slots spinning, sometimes for 20 hours a day.
While East Peoria makes a nickel of every dollar earned at a cafe, that is offset by the lost economic activity at legitimate neighborhood restaurants and taverns. The economic progress casino cafes claim to generate are an illusion because their gains come at the expense of already established community-based businesses.
For many small business owners, video gaming has been a welcome source of new revenue. Left unchecked, these cafes will undermine the hospitality industry video gaming was supposed to assist. Towns like Springfield, Rockford and Loves Park have been overrun with dozens of cafes that snatched up valuable real estate. Locally, Emma’s Eatery in Peoria has siphoned over $490,000 out of town and has only been operational for a year. Emma’s is part of a corporate chain that currently has 50 locations and a total slot revenue of $83.7 million. Are these the kind of businesses we want in our town?
Local mayors need to be given the power to prevent casino cafes from swarming our communities. State Sen. Darin LaHood of Peoria has already filed a bill in Springfield (SB 1794) to give local government more power to work with business owners to create appropriate liquor license and gaming regulations.
Small businesses need to stand together against the onslaught of corporate casino cafes. We spent decades trying to legalize video gaming for our businesses, and now, just two years later, corporate interests have swept in to open pop-up casino cafes.
Dave Zickar owns the Brass Key Lounge in East Peoria.