Wheeling may lift cap on video gambling cafes

Wheeling seems ready to open its doors to more video gambling cafes.

A majority of village trustees say they'll support lifting a moratorium that caps the number at three. Whether that turns Wheeling into a destination for gambling cafes is yet to be seen. Some officials say every shopping center in town may have one, while others think the market will control itself.

"At some point in time, how many can a village of 40,000 people handle?" said Trustee Dave Vogel, the only board member to oppose lifting the cap.

The village is expected to formally remove the moratorium during an April 2 meeting.

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.

However, concerns such as crime and noise complaints related to the cafes haven't happened. What has happened, however, is developers have sought approval for restaurant plans that seem more similar to gambling cafes.

"It seems that we have establishments coming to us and coming up with business plans that just skirt the issue, that they really just want to open a video gaming cafe," Trustee Mary Papantos said.

The village has different definitions for a gambling cafe and a restaurant with video gambling.

A restaurant with gambling must have seating for at least 30 people and serve lunch or dinner at least five days a week.

A video gambling cafe may have a maximum of 30 seats and the primary business of the establishment is video gambling. Nonalcoholic drinks and food must account for half the total gross revenue.

Aside from the three Stella's Place locations, 15 other bars or restaurants have video gambling in the village. Village Manager Jon Sfondilis doesn't think the village will be overrun with cafes because the market may not bear many more.

He also said there are rules in place to control the appearance of the cafes.

"We recognize people's concerns about the visibility and the image of these gaming cafes," he said. "We have fairly restrictive sign codes that prohibit the blinking signs, the large neon lights, anything that becomes obnoxious. We don't want the town to look like Las Vegas, either."

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