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Villa Park OTB plan heads into home stretch
State racing board OKs Arlington Park bid for new facility on North Avenue
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/12/2008 12:13 AM

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Villa Park has hit the exacta in gaining both an off-track-betting parlor and a new restaurant for town.

What remains to be seen is if the village can complete the trifecta and sustain the establishment at a profit.

The Illinois Racing Board Tuesday gave Arlington Park racecourse officials conditional approval to open the new off-track betting facility.

The condition is based on Villa Park approving a zoning law amendment to accommodate the OTB. The village's zoning board will meet Thursday to discuss the proposed law change.

Right now, the OTB's opening seems as sure a bet as Secretariat. Villa Park officials specifically courted the business for the proposed location, 270 W. North Ave.

Once open, the betting parlor will be the fifth OTB in the state operated by Arlington Park.

State law limits the number of OTBs Arlington Park can operate to six. State law also caps the overall number of OTBs in the state at 37. The Villa Park OTB would bring the existing tally to 30 statewide.

The 10,000-square-foot Villa Park OTB will contain a new Salerno Pincente Ristorante eating establishment. The restaurant also received approval from the Illinois Racing Board Tuesday.

The betting operation would have 12 wagering terminals and 45 televisions. The entire building would have a maximum capacity of 250 people with a 60-car parking lot. Village officials expect the new business to open in October.

But the project has come under the protest of various village residents for moral, religious and economic reasons.

Longtime gambling foe Kathy Gilroy, a Villa Park resident, lobbied the racing board to vote against the project.

She said the Villa Park OTB doesn't make good business sense because it would be less than five miles away from the state's busiest OTB in Oakbrook Terrace.

Gilroy cited the recent failure of an OTB in Tinley Park, about seven miles away from the state's second-busiest OTB in Crestwood.

"Could the proposed facility in Villa Park follow the same pattern and not be able to compete?" Gilroy asked. "Can it possibly be maximizing revenues to the state to allow two OTB parlors in the same zip code?"

Illinois Racing Board Chairman Joseph Sinopoli answered that other OTBs in downtown Chicago have been approved in locations even closer to one another.

"The market will dictate whether those two facilities can coexist," said Sinopoli, a Glen Ellyn resident.

Overall, the Villa Park OTB will be a slightly smaller version of the parlor in Southwest suburban Hodgkins, which also contains a Salerno restaurant.

Villa Park and Arlington Park officials said they believe the new OTB, if successful, would generate at least $100,000 a year in new tax dollars for the village.