JOLIET – Hawthorne Race Course plans to move its Joliet off-track betting parlor when the lease is up in May.
Bookie Magee’s Hideaway & OTB, located in the back of the Menards and Walmart shopping center on Jefferson Street, was designed to be a combination sports bar, restaurant and betting parlor that would create the possibility of attracting new people to horse racing.
But the building no longer suits the OTB business, said Michele Schaade, assistant director of OTB operation for Hawthorne.
“The building is too big, and we’re really looking to get rid of the food and beverage,” Schaade said.
Hawthorne plans to move the OTB when the lease is up in May, she said, and wants to partner with a local restaurant and bar.
Joe Pecora, owner of Heroes West Sports Grill, presented such a proposal to the Joliet City Council Economic Development Committee this week. But Pecora is looking for $700,000 in tax incentives from the city to subsidize about 70 percent of the costs to build an OTB addition to Heroes West.
Joliet officials sounded skeptical about the idea, and the committee suggested that Pecora meet with city staff to consider other options.
“You’ve got the controversial issue of public support for gambling, which we haven’t done with Hollywood Casino or Harrah’s,” City Manager Jim Hock told the committee.
Hock noted that the city also would be getting involved in a risky business that has seen declining revenues.
“It’s a modification of our public policy, especially with public funding for a majority of the project,” he said.
Pecora said that according to a study done by SB Friedman Development Advisors, the city could justify the spending as a way to preserve about $634,000 in tax revenues that would be generated by the OTB over the next 10 years.
He said Hawthorne was not looking at other Joliet locations.
“Maybe they were flattering me, but the people who talked to me said we were the only restaurant in Joliet they were looking at,” he told the committee.
Schaade said Hawthorne has not yet looked for other sites but would have to consider locations in surrounding towns if the OTB does not go into Heroes West.
“We would have to look elsewhere outside of Joliet,” Schaade told the committee. “The building that we’re at just is not feasible anymore.”
Bookie Magee’s opened in 2004 when the OTB had to move out of the old Jefferson Square Mall that was demolished when Menards bought the property and redeveloped it. The standalone, spacious OTB with 160 betting tables and 200 TV screens was seen as a way to accommodate horse race bettors and appeal to the sports bar crowd at the same time.
Pecora said the plan to link up the OTB to an existing sports bar and restaurant “is the way all of them are going now. No one is building an OTB standalone.”