Why Prospect Heights wagered $500,000 on a sports bar

Prospect Heights is wagering $500,000 that a sports pub with off-track betting will pay off with boosted tax revenues.

City officials last week handed over the final payment — $50,391.01 — of $500,000 in tax increment financing to Player's Pub and Grill to reimburse the establishment at River Road and Milwaukee Avenue for the final touches of its makeover.

The public money helped fund work at the business that included the 2,500-square-foot addition of a Hawthorne Race Course off-track betting facility and new parking lot.

Mayor Nick Helmer called it a win for Prospect Heights because off-track betting brings the city revenue.

“It's not just video gaming we're getting,” Helmer said. “We have an establishment that produces much more than that.”

The off-track betting site has pumped about $130,000 annually into the city's coffers since it began operations two years ago, officials said. That doesn't include revenue from taxes on food, liquor and video gambling.

The sports bar is in the city's Palatine Road/Milwaukee Avenue TIF district. In a TIF district, increased tax revenues generated by new development are diverted to a fund used to pay for improvements within the area. Throughout the 23-year life of the TIF district, other taxing bodies such as schools and park districts continue receiving tax revenues equal only to what they received when the TIF was created.

State law gives local governments wide latitude over what that money can be spent on, including roads, street lighting, sidewalks, flood mitigation or — in this case — a new gambling spot.

In all, the city's portion will pay for a little more than one-third of the project. Player's Pub and Grill submitted about $1.4 million in expense receipts for the addition and renovation, officials said.

Attorney Maryam Judar, the executive director for the Elmhurst-based government watchdog group Citizen Advocacy Center, said it's not unusual for the tax dollars to be spent on these types of projects.

“There isn't much of a limit as long as they can justify the improvements to increase the tax base,” Judar said. “It's really more about public pressure on using the funds in a way that comports with the public's wishes.”

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