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posted: 1/16/2013 5:23 PM

Prospect Hts. mayor, aldermen differ over possible gambling expansion

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Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer says he's pleased an "upscale" cafe is considering three sites in the city for one of its next locations, but a pair of city aldermen suggest putting the brakes on giving out liquor licenses that can lead to more video gambling in the community.

Helmer said this week that Blackhawk Restaurant Group, which operates 40 restaurants in Oregon, wants to open the same number in Illinois. The company has examined three sites in Prospect Heights and has signed a tentative lease at one, he said.

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The establishments would be open only to people over 21, and Helmer described them as "wine bars" that "look pretty sharp."

Fourth Ward Alderman Patrick Ludvigsen objected to calling the sites restaurants and noted that granting them a liquor license brings the potential for gambling.

"We should be very careful with future liquor licenses; they're not just liquor licenses, it's video gaming," he said.

Third Ward Alderman Scott Williamson agreed.

"It's a casino. It's a speak-easy," he said.

One site the company is considering, Prospect Crossing on Rand Road, would need only a liquor license from the city and state gaming approval to open. Helmer said he understands there is a lease agreement in place that depends on obtaining the licenses.

Two other sites -- Palwaukee Plaza at Palatine and Milwaukee roads and on Camp McDonald Road near city hall -- would require special use permits from the city, said Steve Skiber, the city's building and zoning director.

Once a municipality approves allowing video gambling in town, the local government has no control over which establishments the state approves for up to five machines. But only establishments with liquor licenses are eligible.

"This council approved video gambling by a four to one vote," Helmer noted. "Welcome to reality."

"This is a Class A company, not fly-by-night; they're well thought of," he added.

Blackhawk Restaurant Group says on its website, blackhawnrestaurantgroup.com, that it is pursuing restaurant expansion in Illinois. One of the principals, Michael Thiessen, is based in the Chicago area, and the company's address is listed as Western Springs. Much of the company's history is in Oregon and the West.

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