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Article updated: 10/11/2012 9:12 AM

Some win, some lose, some come for the pizza

By Burt Constable

Every Wednesday during these tough economic times, Rosati's of Lakemoor lures its lunch crowd with a half-price pasta special. Regular customer Todd McCarthy opts for the $3 pizza slice deal, but ends up spending 18 bucks this time.

Grabbing a bite before starting his second shift as a deliver truck driver, the 24-year-old Wauconda resident enjoys his pizza and then wanders into Rosati's new "video gaming lounge," where he loses $15 in 15 minutes playing the new gambling games now operating legally at 66 restaurants and bars across the state, with hundreds more on the verge of opening.

"That's the way it goes with video poker," shrugs McCarthy, who says he is a regular customer at area casinos. "I'm glad I didn't bring a lot of money in here. I didn't know these things were open yet."

During this first lunch hour with gambling on the Rosati's menu, most customers are here just to eat. Rosati's is a neighborhood place that attracts working people, families, senior citizens, kids' sports teams, birthday parties and NASCAR fans on race days, says Anthony Patti, the 63-year-old co-owner. He was a full-time carpet contractor in Bloomingdale when he got into the restaurant business in 2005 as a way to supplement his carpet income. Now carpet installation is his part-time job.

"In 2008, when everything dumped, it was a struggle to stay in business," says Patti, who lives in Lakemoor now and saw nearby businesses fold up shop. "The gambling is a sideline to help out a little."

Among the first Illinois business owners granted a license for video gambling, Patti figures he spent about $10,000 to turn what had been his office into a nicely carpeted lounge big enough for five machines and a stool in front of each, with a window and a glass door that locks.

"I hired a few extra people, too," Patti says, noting that, by law, someone 21 or older and approved by the Illinois Gaming Board must always monitor the room to make sure no underage people try to gamble. His wall already boasts a certificate from the village and police department for not serving alcohol to minors.

"We hired six part-time people to help in all parts of the restaurant," notes Patti, who says he hopes the video games will attract more diners and allow him to stay open later.

By state statute, each of the five machines accepts a maximum of $100 at a time, allows bettors to wager anywhere from a penny to $2 on a play, and pays out a maximum of $500 for each jackpot. The machines, which offer a variety of games, operate on cash but print winnings (or money that wasn't lost) on a voucher that is fed into a heavily secured ATM-like machine that spits out the winnings and records every transaction.

The machinery and security cameras for Rosati's cost about $100,000, says Lynne Morris, the CEO of Morris Gaming in Skokie, one of the vendors licensed to put in systems around the state.

"Don't you love the music?" asks Morris, as a computerized ditty signals she won $44.80 for her $20 bill during a demonstration about how to play. A former pharmaceutical marketing professional, Morris says her Australian homeland has had gambling machines in bars for years. She launched Morris Gaming in 2009, the same day Illinois passed the Video Gaming Act. The state takes 30 percent of Rosati's net gaming income, the company that operates the statewide system receives 0.7275 percent, and Morris Gaming and Rosati's split the rest.

"I'm a fisherman and a hunter," says Patti, who says he's tried the video games only so he can explain them to customers. "It's not my hobby, but I understand it's a lot of people's hobby. People don't mind spending money on their hobby. I might spend $80 on a fishing pole."

Video gambling is a serious hobby for frequent casino visitor David Balk, 38, who lives behind the restaurant and works as Rosati's delivery driver.

"Not for very long. He's about to retire," quips Patti as Balk emerges from the video lounge showing off a voucher for $67.57 he won on his $10 bet. Tony Patti, the owner's 29-year-old son and restaurant manager, zips into the lounge after the lunch rush and wins $41 on his $5 bet. His father suggests employees will not spend time in the lounge once the novelty wears off or the odds catch up to them.

Many of the local people who travel to casinos in Des Plaines, Elgin or Wisconsin might come here for their video gambling fix, says Lakemoor resident Carol Rohde, who comes to Rosati's for pizza "all the time."

"I only want to spend $20," says the 70-year-old, who stops in this time only to gamble on the same machines she plays at the casinos. "Well, I start out that way."

Rohde hits a few winners playing a game called "Siberian Storm." She cashes in a winning voucher for $37.81, before she loses it all again and ends the day down $30.

"You know how many pizzas you have to sell to make 30 bucks?" says Gary Patti. He figures most of his gamblers will be customers who play a game or two after eating or while waiting for a pizza.

"I just wanted to see what it was all about," says Joe Enright, 49, a Rosati's regular who lives in Lakemoor and says he hasn't been gambling since his wife Laura's 40th birthday party six years ago. He feeds $5 into a machine and quickly loses all but 23 cents.

"They aren't the magnets the anti-gambling advocates would have you believe," Patti suggests, noting that his license for video gambling doesn't make Rosati's a casino any more than getting a license to sell beer and wine turned his business into a tavern. "I'm not a bar person or a gambler. This is just something to try. That's all we're looking for, a little extra."

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