Things are looking up at the Cordial Inn, an old-school tavern that has called 31st Street in Brookfield home for half a century. The bar’s got new TVs and owner Don Volpe has started offering more food specials for his customers — free popcorn and coffee, beef sandwiches for $1.50 and, of course, those famous burgers.
He recently hired a cleaning service to come in and keep the place tidy and, when the weather gets better, he’s planning on sprucing up the exterior of the bar — a new coat of paint and quite possibly a sign.
You’d think times would be tough for a small neighborhood bar. Certainly, they were tougher after the recession hit four years ago.
“Before, it was hard,” said Volpe, who has been at the Cordial Inn for more than 35 years. “In this economy, we were barely getting by.”
What has accounted for the sudden turnaround? Video gambling.
The state of Illinois granted Volpe’s video gaming license in October 2012, and he installed five of the machines — the maximum allowed by law — in the back of the bar. In just two months, Cordial Inn became one of the hottest video gambling spots not just in Brookfield, but the entire state.
In December alone, gamblers pumped $646,346 into Cordial Inn’s video gaming machines. The five machines in that month netted more than $50,000 in profits.
Of course, not all of that money goes to the bar owner. The state takes a 30-percent cut right off the top, which it shares with the local municipality. What’s left over is split 50-50 between the business owner and the gaming machine vendor.
While that whittles down the proceeds quite a bit, it has left places like the Cordial Inn with the kind of revenue it could only have dreamed about prior to the machines coming aboard.
In the final two months of November, after everyone else’s cuts had been taken, Cordial Inn made about $24,000 from video gambling. According to a Chicago Tribune analysis of state gambling receipts, that placed Cordial Inn among the top 15 video gambling locations in the state.
“It’s like hitting the lottery,” Volpe said.
But Cordial Inn isn’t the only place in Brookfield where video gaming has been a financial boon. As of Dec. 31, there were five establishments in the village that had video gambling machines.
And during December, gamblers placed more than $1.5 million in bets on those machines, which netted $110,157 in total net income. Ranking No. 2 and No. 3 in the village, respectively, in net income from the machines were Phil’s Sports Bar and Grill and The Sanctuary, each a stone’s throw away from one another in downtown Brookfield.
Phil’s and The Sanctuary were the first two places in the village to install the machines, back in October. Since that time, the establishments, after taxes and the vendor share, have taken in more than $23,000 each.
Meanwhile, the village of Brookfield is benefiting from the gaming machines. From October through December, Brookfield received $10,687 in taxes from the machines, and that amount is likely to grow significantly.
In October, there were just two video gaming locations in Brookfield. The number rose to three in November and five in December. However, the Illinois Gaming Board website shows that as of Feb. 4 there were 10 businesses in Brookfield that had received their video gaming licenses, and six more were pending.
Brookfield Village Manager Riccardo Ginex said he had budgeted very conservatively for new gaming revenues, putting a line item in the 2013 budget for about $50,000. That figure will be easily eclipsed, based on the last couple of months in 2012.
Ginex said he believes gambling tax revenue will be cyclical and said the village should remain conservative in estimating the potential impact.
“I think you just have to be cautious, because it’s a revenue stream that can really deteriorate if people are bad off,” said Ginex. “But it is pretty incredible that the initial months are garnering this much money.”
As for how gambling and gamblers have affected business in the bars where the machines are located, owners say it’s been a net positive. Volpe said the increased bar traffic has had at least some positive impact on liquor sales, though he and Sanctuary owner Martin Serwinski have noticed that the gamblers are there for really one reason — to play the machines.
“It didn’t increase my liquor sales,” said Serwinski. “These people are players. They like to come play the games and like to be left alone.”
Serwinski said that some come in and will sit at the machines for two or three hours at a time. One man, he said, played at one machine for a 13-hour stretch.
“He’s a good customer,” said Serwinski. “This is just what he likes to do.”
While neighboring Riverside does not allow video gambling and has shown no interest in changing its local laws to allow it, North Riverside will soon begin to see video gaming revenue coming into its coffers.
North Riverside’s village board last summer changed its laws to allow video gambling, and several local businesses there have shown interest in obtaining the machines.
The first business in the village to receive a video gaming license, on Jan. 24, was Chef Shangri-La, the Polynesian restaurant/bar at 26th Street and Desplaines Avenue. But three other North Riverside businesses have license applications pending before the Illinois Gaming Board, including Tipster’s Village Pub, Bar-Tini Lounge and The Sweet Spot.