For a good part of 2017, Forest Park has allowed video gaming in taverns and restaurants in town. As proponents of gaming — largely owners of taverns and restaurants eager for a new revenue stream — had argued, the sky will not fall with the advent of slot machines in Forest Park.
That has so far proven true. Not a spike in crime. Not an endless row of gaudy neon signs proclaiming your entrance into Pottersville or Berwyn. That said, the Review still strongly opposes government-sanctioned gambling in a bar, on a boat or at the 7-Eleven where people cough up money they need to the lottery. Our view on gambling will not change.
But as we enter 2018, Forest Park faces a much greater threat than video gaming. And that is the continued assault on basic democracy, on voting, on citizens having a voice in their community. Over the past year that voice has been brazenly taken away by special interests while elected officials make pathetic excuses about their tied hands. Nonsense.
When, in the past, Forest Parkers were asked by village government to express a collective opinion on video gaming, the anti-gambling response was overwhelming. That should have settled this issue long ago.
However, the liquor lobby — both local bar owners and the gaming vendors who profit from every machine — organized, as is their right, and shut down democratic processes with a cynical effort to clog last fall's election ballot with nonsense referendum questions. It worked then and it may be on the verge of working again as Mark Hosty, a former elected commissioner, a bar owner/manager on Madison, and now a former resident of Forest Park, has again proffered three goofball ballot questions — the legal maximum allowed.
Hearings are underway on Hosty's challenge to the 3,500 petition signatures gathered by local activists who just want a vote on the issue. And on the legitimacy of the ballot-clogging questions.
We will see how this turns out. We're not optimistic.
But here's a wider prediction: Municipal elections in Forest Park are now 15 months away. There is a growing and progressive activism in this village that started with successfully retaking the high schools from political hacks. Last year it focused on Forest Park taking a progressive position on immigration. This year we expect activists to organize across-the-board challenges to a mayor and village council who have colluded in denying citizens a simple straight-up vote on video gaming.
This isn't any longer about slot machines. It is about democracy in Forest Park. The village government can keep its nickels from gaming. The conversation now is about electing new leaders.