Want to gamble but don’t want to go to a bar or a casino?
Well, you can head to Betty’s, an outpost of a new chain of small gambling places that have opened to take advantage of legislation passed a couple of years allowing video gambling in Illinois in towns that decide to allow it.
Betty’s has a location in the North Riverside Park Plaza strip mall on 25th Street just west of Harlem Avenue, sandwiched between a pawn shop and a clothing store.
Unlike most bars and restaurants which have video gambling machines, the main attraction of Betty’s is the gambling, not the food or drink.
Betty’s has a small bar with a very limited selection of beer and wine. It serves no hard liquor but does have champagne in case a winner wants to celebrate. The small front section of the business has a few small tables, all of which were empty on the two occasions the Landmark visited. Betty’s serves a limited menu of sandwiches that are prepared offsite.
The real draw is in back: the five video gambling terminals, the most allowed in any one location by state law.
Betty’s, as the name would indicate, is designed to appeal to women.
“We’re not a bar; we’re more of a neighborhood gathering place,” said Mike Thiessen a partner in the Blackhawk Restaurant Group LLC, which operates Betty’s. “We probably skew women, maybe 55 to 60 percent, but sometimes you’ll have three or four guys in here playing as well.”
During an afternoon visit last week, five ladies were trying their luck at the machines.
The North Riverside Park Plaza, which also houses Tony’s Finer Foods, is the type of location the company seeks out.
“We like being near Tony’s, because they generate good traffic and they’ve got good customers,” Thiessen said. “We like to gravitate towards malls with grocery store anchors. There’s plenty of parking. They’re usually very well lit; they’re safe.”
Betty’s is open from 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and is open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Our license would allow us to go to 1 a.m., so if we have a customer at the last minute we definitely let them in and let them play until our license allows,” said Nadia Bravo, district manager for Betty’s.
There are 28 Betty’s open in the Chicago area and in central Illinois. The first one opened in December in Oakbrook Terrace, and Thiessen said the company’s goal is to open between 50 and 55 by the end of the year.
Most video gambling machines are located in bars, but Betty’s customers prefer a quieter, lighter, more female-friendly atmosphere.
“My daughter was telling me about the place, and she said it was real nice and quiet here so I checked it out,” said one gambler named Margaret last week.
Margaret, who declined to give her last name, was at Betty’s on Friday afternoon for the third time that week.
“Everybody here is nice; they treat you real nice and stuff,” Margaret said.
Margaret lives in Chicago and she often used to go to a restaurant at Roosevelt and Cicero to try her luck at the machines. But she likes Betty’s better.
“I like this place better, because there is usually not a lot of people standing all around. That place [on Roosevelt Road] is real crowded, usually people standing all behind you,” Margaret added. “I don’t like that.”
Betty’s sometimes provides complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks, snacks and cookies for its patrons.
Players can stay as long as their luck or money holds out — there is an ATM machine in the building if you need more cash to keep gambling.
“It can vary from 30 minutes to four or five hours,” Bravo said.
Video gambling in allowed in North Riverside and Brookfield, but is not permitted in Riverside.
The state of Illinois gets 25 percent of net revenue from the machines, the local municipality receives 5 percent, and the owner of the machine gets 35 percent while the establishment that hosts the machine also receives 35 percent of net revenue.
North Riverside Village Treasurer Sue Scarpiniti said that North Riverside anticipates receiving about $30,000 this fiscal year from the village’s portion of the video gaming tax.
That amounts to about two-tenths of 1 percent of the village’s general revenues, Scarpiniti said.