While the slots at the Des Plaines casino started paying off earlier this week, it's far from the first time slots have played in the Northwest suburbs or even in Des Plaines.
Although slot machines and other forms of gambling were banned in Illinois and Cook County before the turn of the century, they remained relatively easy to find, aided in large part by organized crime and the fact that Illinois was a center of slot manufacturing. By 1926, slot machines became prevalent in many of the roadhouses and taverns in the undeveloped 'boonies' of suburban Chicago. While places like Cicero, Calumet City, and Forest Park were particular hot spots, the hottest place around here was the "Little Bohemia" strip in Morton Grove, on Dempster Street near Austin. While prohibition was in effect, law enforcement was especially scarce and easily controlled in sparsely populated and rural unincorporated Cook County. Roadhouses there included Club Rendezvous, Lincoln Tavern, Wayside Inn, Club Morton, Walton Club, and most notoriously, The Dells, a roadhouse with a small casino on the second floor, stocked with slot machines, roulette wheels, and other games.
While Al Capone is now synonymous with crime in prohibition-era Chicago, much of the north side of Chicago, extending well into the suburbs, was the territory of Roger Touhy's gang. Touhy's base of operations was his home on River Road, just north of Des Plaines. He dealt mostly in gambling and bootlegging, and his beer was known to be much higher quality than that peddled by Capone's syndicate. Morton Grove would prove to be a battleground between the two sides. Matt Kolb, owner of the Club Morton, and Touhy's partner, had long controlled much of the gambling on the North Side. He had a previous working relationship with Charles Graydon, who was appointed Sheriff not long after Kolb's friend Peter Hoffman left the office. John M. Tuohy, author of "When Capone's Mob Murdered Roger Touhy," further explains,
"Graydon made Michael Hughes, an exiled member of the Chicago police force, boss over the county highway patrol. Graydon permitted slot machines to flourish in the mostly unincorporated towns in the suburbs.
As Kolb noted, "You can't operate slot machines and gambling unless you have the word to go from the state's attorneys and the sheriff's office. Otherwise you couldn't possibly keep the slot machines up for a day or two."
Kolb was assigned by Touhy to the sheriff's office and Chief Hughes assigned Kolb to take care of payments to his uniformed patrol.
When newspapers began snooping around at the large numbers of saloons and gambling joints in the outer county, Touhy would alert Kolb who would alert Hughes who would alert the highway patrol who would tell the saloons to close down for while."
Kolb was shot to death at his Club Morton on October 25, 1931, the same day Capone was convicted of tax fraud. Some speculated it was because Kolb and Touhy were attempting to muscle back some of their former territory from the syndicate while it was vulnerable. A few years later, Touhy's empire would crumble as he was sent to jail, convicted of the kidnapping of Jake Factor outside the syndicate's Dells, a crime for which he was later exonerated.
The slots only grew more commonplace. An odd quirk of the law was that, despite their illegality in Illinois, machine owners routinely paid up to $250 for federal licensing to avoid hefty fees. A tavern owner could lose his liquor license in Illinois for having gambling on the premises, and stamp-buyers were published in the newspaper starting in 1939 but that didn't stop them. From these newspapers, we know the following establishments had slots at one time or another. Whether the owners had them there willingly is another question, and most taverns remained in operation, as law enforcement was either uninterested or unwilling to address the situation. For example, after the States Attorney made the announcement that there wouldn't be a slot machine in Cook County in two weeks, the Herald two weeks later commented that there were still slots operating all over, and that "any attempt to take them down on the part of a tavern owner meets with strenuous opposition from representatives of the powers that be."
The establishments: Rivers Tavern, River & Golf; Fox & Hounds, River & Rand; El Reno, River & Woodland; Hapsburg Inn, River & Morrison; Rocky's Tavern, Mannheim & Prospect; Log Cabin Inn, Potter Road; Colonial Inn, Oakton; J&J Tavern/Five Corners Inn, 1561 Rand Road; Berry Bait Company, Rand & River; Emil's BBQ, Touhy & Mannheim (subject to frequent raids); Des Plaines Elks Club (had 12 slots in 1955); Des Plaines Moose Club (4 slots in 1955), Country House Tavern, River & Touhy; Fat's Place, Rand & Sakas (this bar still stands); Pick-a-chick, Oakton & Elmhurst; Betty's Lunchroom, River & Oakton. Not to mention the numerous roadhouses along Higgins in what is now Rosemont.
Gambling laws tightened throughout the 1950s and 1960s, particularly through a 1965 law requiring that stamps be registered with the county clerk, who must notify the attorney general, state's attorney, sheriff, state liquor commission, and local police. Registrations steadily declined, and by the 1970s, mention of slot raids had largely disappeared from newspapers.
After casino gaming was legalized in Illinois in 1990, Arlington Heights and Rosemont were quick to express interest in a riverboat. In 1994, Des Plaines came up as another potential site for a casino, as representatives of Primadonna resorts of Nevada approached the Mayor and City Manager with interest in what was described as a long-shot possible casino. After scouting 10 possible sites, including the Methodist Campgrounds, Forest Preserve Property, and the former Sexton Landfill, which was yanked from consideration by its owner, the Chicago Archdiocese, Primadonna withdrew its plans. This was sealed after an advisory referendum asked, "Shall the City of Des Plaines have casino gambling?" and residents answered "no", 7,111 to 5,792. City Manager Wally Douthwaite was quoted as saying, "A casino coming to Des Plaines was a long shot, at best. The vote probably closes that door forever."
Times change. The current casino operation was first proposed in 2002, and the chosen site, formerly a Xerox operation, was identified in July. Mayor Tony Arredia was quoted as saying, "As far as I'm concerned, a casino won't happen in Des Plaines. I voted 'no' the first time and I will do the same this time."
However, like much of the community, Arredia warmed to the project. Times change.