Wheeling considers new wine bistro with gambling

Three years after putting a moratorium on video gambling eateries, Wheeling village board members seem friendly toward a proposed Italian bistro and wine concept with space for gambling.

Developers of Bella's Wine Bistro insist the business wouldn't be a video gambling cafe, but supportive village trustees backed the concept - even if the proposed food and grocery sales merely disguise its purpose as a gambling establishment.

"I do think this is a gaming cafe disguised in a little capocollo and Asiago cheese," Trustee Joe Vito said. "That's fine though - I have nothing against it."

Rocky Bhalla, who owns truck stops, gas stations and liquor stores across Illinois, recently proposed the bistro for a shopping mall at the intersection of East Dundee Road and Huntington Lane. The business would serve Italian wines and food, sell groceries and devote about 200 square feet to video gambling.

Bhalla estimated 80 percent of sales would be for served food and groceries, while about 20 percent would be from gaming. The gaming revenues would be ancillary to the overall business, he said.

In 2014, Wheeling officials wary of the effects of new state gaming laws limited the number of gambling cafes in the village to three. Stella's Place holds all three licenses at three separate locations in the village.

Although Bella's Wine Bistro wouldn't be considered a gambling cafe under local code, the idea is similar enough that village staff members wanted village board members to discuss the concept, Director of Community Development Andrew Jennings said.

Trustees were content with the tax revenue gaming machines bring in to the village and city officials said gambling hasn't affected crime.

"I think we ought to relax our thoughts on gaming because it's not impactive at all," Trustee Ray Lang said. "I think this is a very good concept."

Other trustees agreed.

"I don't want to turn into a gambling mecca," Trustee Mary Papantos said. "However, I have to agree with the other trustees that there's been no impact. I've seen the (revenue) numbers and the numbers are good."

Bhalla has not yet submitted a formal proposal to the village's plan commission.

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