Some towns won't push their luck with gambling cafes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recent failed attempts to allow video gambling cafés in Palos Hills, and open a new café in Chicago Ridge, may be an indication that local communities are losing interest in them.

At the Palos Hills City Council meeting on Oct. 1, aldermen voted 5 to 4 against creating a special liquor license for the businesses that would allow them to sell beer and wine and require them to serve food. The license would have come with a $1,800 annual fee.

              But the promise of tax revenue did not sway a majority of the aldermen to allow the small cafes, which usually have a woman's name as part of their name — and cater to women who would rather go into a cozy diner to gamble than a bar. But critics say that their business model focuses too much on gambling.

               Unlike Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge does allow video cafés, as do Hickory Hills, Oak Lawn and Worth. Many suburbs allow the cafes, including nearby Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn. Evergreen Park only allows video gambling at one location in town, the American Legion Post 854 at 9701 S. Kedzie Ave., while Palos Heights and Palos Park prohibit it altogether.

But at the Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting on Oct. 6, trustees voted 5-1 against allowing a request to open a Lacey’s Place gaming café in a vacant storefront at 10725 S. Ridgeland Ave.

“We do not like seeing vacant spaces. But how many video gaming places is too many? There is no easy answer,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar. It was pointed out that the village already allows video gambling at 19 locations in the village, including at the McDonnell-Linn VFW Post down the street, at 10537 S. Ridgeland, as well as at the Stella’s Place gaming café in Chicago Ridge Commons, about a mile south on Ridgeland.

The mayor said he was told by the owners of Stella’s Place that many mothers stop in there to try their luck after dropping their kids off at school.

Trustee Amanda Cardin said she did not want the village to become “the gaming capital of the southwest suburbs.”

               Oak Lawn has more video gaming establishments than Chicago Ridge, include a few gambling cafés such as Stella’s Place, at 8759 S. Ridgeland. But officials there also have expressed reservations of allowing any more.

“The reason we wanted video gambling licenses was to benefit our existing businesses. But it has gotten out of hand,” said Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) this week.

“I don’t have a problem if people want to spend their discretionary income on gambling. But I do have an issue with the business model of the gaming cafés, which focuses more on gambling than anything else,” he said.

Worth Trustee Colleen McEvoy, who chairs the Economic Development Committee on the Board of Trustees, said she would not be interested in adding to the two gaming cafés, Elsie’s and Dottie’s, already in the village.

“But Worth is not a home-rule community, so we are limited in deciding what we can allow in,” she explained, noting that they have to go by what the state allows.

“We have a lot of existing restaurants that I would like to see people going to, rather than bringing in more gambling cafes,” said McElroy, who is working on attracting more businesses to 111th Street and Harlem Avenue, the village’s two main thoroughfares.

She noted that the village’s Economic Development Commission is inviting residents to a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Village Hall at 7112 W. 111th St. McElroy said concept photos will be available of proposed plans, and residents may make suggestions.

Palos Hills votes against gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Luck wasn’t on the side of video gaming café owners last Thursday in Palos Hills.

City officials voted 5-4 on Oct. 1 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance that would have paved the way for the gaming cafés to come to town. The vote does not impact the city’s current stance of allowing video gaming machines in restaurants.

Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against creating the ordinance while aldermen Pauline Stratton (2nd), Mike Lebarre (3rd), Ricky Moore (4th) and Dawn Nowak (5th) were in favor. Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th) was absent.

“It’s absolutely disappointing,” Nowak, who serves as the chairwoman of the city’s economic development committee, said of the vote. “Those (gaming café owners)are going to go someplace else and give their money to other cities.”

Nowak told the council there are 92 vacancies in town and recent efforts to bring Buona Beef to the corner of 111th Street and Roberts Road proved unsuccessful. Representatives of Laredo Hospitality Ventures, which is the parent company of café casino Stella’s Place, and Durbin’s addressed the council last month expressing interest in operating video gaming cafés in town.

“It’s unacceptable to me (to have 92 vacancies in town),” Nowak told her fellow aldermen. “I’m beating the doors down on businesses and there is not a lot of interest. I’d like to ask you all to try (with gaming cafés) and see where it goes.”

Calling herself a “proponent of small businesses,” Stratton was open to creating the new liquor classification for the gaming cafés.

“Even though the government keeps saying the economy is better it really isn’t,” Stratton said. “This is a trendy situation and we have nothing to lose if the businesses are willing to go forward and try something new.

“I’m not a proponent of gambling, but, if you’re looking at gambling, churches have raffles and bingo – both forms of gambling. If the businesses want to put forth some effort to help themselves and invariably help the city, then I will support it.”

Moore was also in favor of the gaming cafés, noting the city already allows its restaurants the option to have gambling machines.

“First of all, we are not doing or asking for anything that we are not already doing in the city,” Moore said. “It’s a very small footprint. It’s an occupied storefront instead of a vacant storefront. It’s revenue for the city. I wouldn’t have any problem supporting the two (Stella’s and Durbin’s) and seeing how it goes.”

Five restaurants in Palos Hills currently have video gaming terminals that generated a total of $65,000 for the city in 2014, Mayor Gerald Bennett said. Revenue from the machines is broken down four ways with 25 percent going to the state, 5 percent to municipality, 35 percent to the establishment owner and 35 percent to the terminal operator.  

Although there are plenty of vacant storefronts in town, Schultz said she did not support any of them being filled with gaming cafés.

“I don’t understand this. Why would you not want your municipality to be known for a nice place to raise a family as opposed to a nice place to go gambling,” Schultz asked rhetorically. “We have had businesses empty for I can’t tell you how many years and we have survived this. We will survive this. I just think (by allowing gaming cafés)you are opening up a can of beans that I am so vehemently against.”

Kleefisch told the council he has been opposed to video gaming from the beginning and remains opposed to it.

“I’ll go on record as saying I’m not for increasing the liquor licenses for this purpose,” he said. “One of the reasons (I’m against video gaming) is that it’s one of the most addictive forms of gambling. I don’t want to be a part of hurting anyone or their family by giving them another opportunity to lose their money.”

Kleefisch also feared allowing the gaming cafés could damage the city’s reputation.

“I believe the reputation of the city is somewhat tied into video gaming,” he said. “I’m concerned about the reputation of the city. I think we should look for more creative ways to make money for our city and provide services for our citizens other than video gaming.”

Laredo Hospitality Ventures operates nearly 40 gambling cafés in Illinois, including one each in Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Hickory Hills. Nowak said the cafés have had no issues with unruly customers or financial troubles.

“Stella’s has 38 locations with no closures,” Nowak said. “Mayor Bennett has checked with other cities and came back with no problems (pertaining to Stella’s).”

Nowak said she would not be opposed to revisiting the creation of a liquor class for gaming cafés in the future. Bennett noted all it would take is for one member of the council to bring the topic up at a future meeting.

Bennett anticipated the city would not allow more than three or four gambling cafés in the city so voting against it last week was not going to cause Palos Hills to lose a lot of money.

“It wasn’t going to bring in a whole lot of revenue but it would create some revenue,” Bennett said.

“I told the council from the beginning that it’s up to them. If they want to create it that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their choice.”

'Midnight Terror' expands frightful presen

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Anyone wanting to get in the spirit of Halloween and scare up a good time may visit haunted houses in Oak Lawn, Worth, and Orland Park.

In Oak Lawn, the Midnight Terror Haunted House is operating for the second consecutive year in the former Beatty Lumber property at 9531 S. 52nd Ave., but it has tripled in size over last year, when 9,000 people came through.

The 4,000-square-foot property has been turned into two haunted houses — the Factory of Malum and Blackwoods Hospital — and more than 30 rooms, as well as an outdoor “chainsaw alley” maze. In the Factory of Malum, a demonic creature who oversees a labyrinth of rooms and corridors filled with phobia-related things such as insects, snakes, rats, living dolls, electrical hazards, fire-scorched clowns, pitch-black passages, and claustrophobia-inducing narrow hallways that visitors find their way through as fiendish factory workers shriek, stalk and surprise at every turn.

After getting through that, the next task is to the adjacent Blackwood Hospital, where the hospital beds, surgical tables, and padded cells are occupied by mangled, possessed, and deranged factory employees under the care of the sadistic Dr. Blackwood and gnarly nurses.

The gory attraction was dreamed up by creator Justin Cerniuk, 26, an Oak Lawn native who runs Midnight Terror with his uncle Robert W. Page, and friends Maciej Kulawiak and Mark Krupa.

“We moved it here because it outgrew my driveway (in the 9700 block of Massasoit Avenue),” said Cerniuk, who had been creating Halloween displays there with his uncle since he was 10.

“The last year we had it in the driveway, we had 5,000 people come through,” he said. Last year, 9,000 people visited the haunted house at Beatty Lumber, and more are expected to see the expanded operation this year. More than 70 actors are involved this year, up from 20 last year.

“The ideas just come from my imagination, and I bring them to my partners,” said Cerniuk, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve always been interested in Halloween and haunted houses. It became a hobby and then took over my life,” he said with a smile.

He said his “regular job” is a nightclub photographer, but he and his partners spend at least six months working on their haunted houses. They now have professional set designers, acting coaches and makeup artists, and a new LED lighting system and improved sound system, and CGI effects, including monitors displaying monstrous footage.

The wheelchair-accessible attraction, which opened Oct. 1, will run from: 7-10 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays, with the final day of operation being Nov. 1; and from 7-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween.

Regular admission is $18 person, but various discounts are available. VIP passes are $25. Discounts for large groups are also available

During Family Day, from 3 to 6 p.m. on Halloween, children up to age 12 may go through for free, with the lights on, and trick-or-treat with the actors. During this three-hour period, families can also register for the 2016 Westside Baseball season or for a local Boy Scout troop

Free parking is available in the nearby Metra parking garage at 9525 S. Tulley Ave. Tickets, discount coupons, and more information may be obtained online at or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Other local Halloween attractions include Haunted Woods “Dark in the Park,” sponsored by the Orland Park Lions Club at 14800 S. Ravinia Ave.

The event will be open from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9 and 10, 16 and 17, and 23 and 24. The last tickets will be sold at 10 p.m. General admission is $12 and VIP $17. A $2 discount is available with a donation of a perishable non-expired food item.

The Trick-or-Treat trail for ages 8 and under, for $3 per child, will be open from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

Tickets and more information may be obtained at

In Worth, the Park District is hosting Nightmare on the Terrace Haunted House from 6 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 9-11, 16-18, and 23-25, in the Terrace Center, 11500 S. Beloit Ave.

Admission is $8 for the haunted house, which is recommended for ages 8 and up.

A Teens’ Terror at the Terrace, will also be open from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9. Admission is $5 with student ID.

         More information may be obtained by calling the Worth Park District at (708) 448-7080.

Eye spy: Oak Lawn mayor calls out blogger for wearing spyglasses to event

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Just when you think Oak Lawn board meetings couldn't get any crazier...


This is a story straight from the annals of Hal Lipset. Or Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy.


Lipset was a storied San Francisco sleuth who “helped elevate, or rather reduce, electronic surveillance to a miniature art,” The New York Times wrote in his 1997 obituary.


He was best known as the man who put a bug in a martini olive, The Times reported.


That brings us to Oak Lawn, where some subterfuge and skulduggery could be afoot.


Brian Schaeflein is not a private investigator, but at Tuesday's board meeting, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury has accused him of wearing glasses equipped with a hidden camera at last week’s 911 emergency dispatch center open house.


Schaeflein is a writer for an anonymously-owned blog that covers the village and has been highly critical of Bury’s administration.


He attended Tuesday’s village board and criticized Bury for blocking freedom of information requests he has submitted via the village website.


He also upbraided the mayor for using her personal blog to attack him.


“This is really unbelievable, mayor,” said Schaeflein, who threatened to sue the village if it continues to deny him information granted to reporters.


“This is a serious matter,” he said, adding that the village does not have the right to “pick and choose” the outlets than can submit FOIA requests.


Schaeflein did submit a FOIA request by hand to Village Clerk Jane Quinlan after Tuesday’s meeting.


By the way, Schaeflein denied wearing spyglasses to the Jan. 7 open house, but Bury insisted that the glasses looked much different than the ones he wore at Tuesday’s meeting.


“The temple was about three times the size,” Bury said. “They are not the same glasses. I’m an optometrist, and I know a thing or two about glasses.”


Cameras were not allowed inside the dispatch center during last week’s tour. Bury said Schaeflein compromised the safety of the people the center serves by violating the rule.


A handout that included a photo of Schaeflein sitting in the village board chambers on the night of the tour was available at Tuesday’s meeting.


The handout accused Schaeflein of wearing the spyglasses and not taking any notes during the open house presentation. He was not confronted about the glasses on the night of the tour, Bury said.


The mayor would not confirm that she directed emails from Schaeflein or the blog he works for to be blocked, but added “I have no problem with it being shut down.”


“I can’t tell you if he’s on the list. I suspect he probably is,” Village Manager Larry Deetjen said.


Deetjen said the village adds will block an email address if it receives complaints from village employees or officials about messages from that address.




Accident claims life of 'phenomenal' and 'exceptional' artist

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Anna Kreja’s artistic talents were apparent from her very first class at Mother McAuley High School.


“Her work was phenomenal from the get-go. She was really passionate about it,” said Kathleen Gordon Davis, chairman of the visual arts and technology department at the high school.


In fact, Gordon Davis said Kreja was one of the most talented and creative artists that she has encountered during her 29 years at the school.


“She was really exceptional,” Gordon Davis said.


Kreja was enrolled in integrated biology and art as a freshman, a course that introduces students to basic drawing techniques and composition skills along with the laboratory biology curriculum.

But the class was just beginning of her artistic journey at Mother McAuley.

She also took part in painting, art history, studio art and AP studio art classes. The portfolio she created in the advanced class won a Scholastic Art Silver Key Award.

Kreja, 19, of Oak Lawn, was struck by a car last Wednesday at about 1:30 p.m. near 110th Street and Cicero Avenue, police said.

She was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn where died a short time later, police said.

A 2013 Mother McAuley graduate, Ms. Kreja was crossing Cicero Avenue after getting off a bus when she was hit a car driven by a 53-year-old woman, police said. The driver was not cited, they said.

Ms. Kreja was coming home from classes at the Academy of Art, where she was a sophomore, and preparing to walk to her apartment on Keating Avenue where she lived with her mother, Karen, when she was hit.


Rich Kryczka, an instructor at the American Academy of Art, recalled Ms. Kreja as a quiet girl who thoroughly enjoyed her classes.


“Being at school is where she wanted to be. It was all in her smile,” said Kryczka, the chairman of the illustration department at the American Academy of Art.


“It’s sad. She was a really good kid,” said Kryczka, who taught an illustration class in which Ms. Kreja was enrolled.


He described Ms. Kreja as a soft-spoken individual who preferred to listen.


“She was a thinker,” he said.


Ms. Kreja had ambitions to be a professional illustrator and write children’s books, Kryczka said.


Duncan Webb, a dean at the American Academy of Art, said Kreja was “a conscientious and serious student.”


“She had a lifelong commitment to her art, and she was determined to be a successful professional artist,” Webb said. “At our institution, we have a family environment, and I can tell you students, faculty and staff are feeling loss. It looked like she had a bright successful future.”


Gordon Davis owns two of Ms. Kreja’s works, one that is displayed in her classroom at the school. She said Ms. Kreja had innate creativity, which is difficult to teach.


“It’s heartbreaking,” Gordon Davis said. “I think she was proud of her work but she didn’t have to toot her own horn.”


In addition to her mother, Ms. Kreja is survived by her father, Jack, and several aunts and uncles.


Visitation was at Hickey Memorial Chapel in Midlothian. A funeral Mass was held Wednesday at St. Christopher Church followed by interment at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice.