Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Forest Park anymore

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By Nona Tepper

If you haven't heard, the Forest Park Review is fact-checking every campaign flier this election season, in an effort to inform voters. Keep in touch: ntepper@wjinc.com or jill@oakpark.com

Flier Name: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Forest Park anymore…"

Specs: 8 ½-by-11, glossy, two-sided

Submitted to the Forest Park Review: Oct. 9

The first side of the flier features a yellow-brick road background, with pictures of storefronts of the Golden Steer and O'Sullivans Public House, both of which offer video gaming. It offers a few claims:

1)    "Unlike other towns, Forest Park prohibits pop-up video gaming cafes. Only established businesses may be granted a gaming license" TRUE

The village ordinance specifies that only establishments that hold a local liquor license, fraternal organizations and veterans organizations that have been operating for at least a year are valid for the class V video gaming local liquor license.

2)    "Forest Park restaurant and bar owners support village policy against outdoor gaming signs and have pledged to never display gaming signs or banners" TRUE, BUT…

Twelve bar owners have signed an agreement that states "we will abide by the spirit of the ordinance that bans video gaming signs regardless of any future legal decisions, and we will remain committed to keeping Forest Park Beautiful!" Bar owners from Healy's Westside, O'Sullivan's Public House, Beacon Pub, Duffy's, Blueberry Hill, Doc Ryan's Bar & Grill, R Place, Slainte, Murphy's, Mugsy's, The Golden Steer and Fat Duck signed the agreement.

Attorneys Nick Peppers and Thomas Bastian, of the Storino, Romello and Durkin law firm that represents the village, did not respond to interview requests.

Brendan Healey, partner at the Chicago-based Mandell Menkes LLC law firm, who specializes in First Amendment cases related to video gaming advertising, said a video gaming sign ban would likely not hold up in court, even if bar owners have pledged not to put up signs and agree when they receive their liquor license that they will respect all village ordinances.

"Obviously they can agree to do whatever they want, but if somebody were to want to put up a sign, I think they would have a strong argument that it's First Amendment protected speech," Healey said. "I think the bar owner would have strong argument that he or she has the right to advertise lawful activity taking place in the bar. Commercial speech is entitled to a lower level of First Amendment protection, but it is not unprotected and the state does not have the unfettered right to restrict commercial speech." 

3)    A) "Licensed Video Gaming hasn't changed the look of Forest Park…" NO COMMENT

How do you define "look"? This statement is not detailed enough for the Review to fact-check.

B) "…but it has brought in $300,000 in new revenue to the Village." MOSTLY TRUE

As of Sept. 17, the total amount the village has made from video gaming is $287,097, according to data provided by the village of Forest Park, which includes all license fees, permits and the village's share of the terminal income.

In fiscal year 2019, which runs from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019, the village has so far earned $104,035 from video gaming. 

In fiscal year 2018, which ran from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, the village earned $165,141 from video gaming. In fiscal year 2017, which ran from May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, the village earned $17,921 from video gaming.

4)    "More revenue supports police officers, fire fighters and public works programs without relying on higher property taxes" MISLEADING

Property taxes cover less than 20 percent of the village's revenue, with the remaining funds coming from sales taxes, fees and grants. The village levied the full amount it can for property taxes in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the calendar years gambling has been legal in the village, said Tim Gillian, village administrator. The village is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, which limits property tax levy increases to 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

"We have no ability to tell them to raise [property taxes] or lower them. That said, the county gives us a finite amount of money each year and any year that I have revenue from someplace else, then, of course, we rely on that revenue," Gillian said.

At the village council meeting on Dec. 18, 2018, Letitia Olmstead, village finance director, noted that half the village's property tax levy goes toward pension obligations.

The ordinance allowing video gaming is silent on how revenue the village receives from video gaming must be used. Video gaming money received goes into the village's General Fund, which funds "basic services," according to the 2017 auditor's report.

5)    "Video gaming has allowed local businesses to hire new employees, increase salaries and make improvement on their buildings." TRUE, BUT…

Ronald Milchoeffer Jr., who co-owns R Place with his father, said he's used the revenue from video gaming to pay his bills, property taxes and do some long-overdue maintenance to 1527 Harlem Ave. Namely, he bought all new bar stools, seal coated and stripped the parking lot, replaced the mortar joints in the building and more. From December 2016 to October 2018, R Place earned $81,303 from video gaming, according to data obtained from the Illinois Gaming Board on Oct. 15. 

"I was able to take care of a few long-time employees, pay them some more than I was, I also hired new employees—two in the kitchen and one extra bartender—and a lot of other little things. It's been good, it's been a long time coming, we hadn't had the extra money to do things like that," he said.

It is impossible to know and verify how every private business owner with video gaming in their establishment uses the revenue they receive from the practice.

SENT BY: Let Forest Park Grow-Vote No, which is a ballot initiative committee established Aug. 22 with the aim of supporting licensed video gaming in the village.

James Watts, owner of O'Sullivan's Public House and the bar owner who brought the local battle over video gaming to the state Supreme Court, is listed as its chairperson. Let Forest Park Grow's headquarters is listed as 545 Beloit Ave., a residential property Watts owns, according to property records.

The group has received $59,200 in funds in its most recent quarterly earnings report to the Illinois State Board Elections on Oct. 15.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

11 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 2:17 PM

Dear Steven Woltman, the Review is fact-checking the mailers sent out. Let Forest Park Vote is raising money from residents to be able to send out a mailer (encouraging folks to vote Yes). We don't have the backing of outside interests to be able to send as many mailers as the other side.

Steven Woltman from Forest Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 12:31 PM

So, this fact checking is only being conducted on the pro gaming side? Hummm...FPR you're not being too manipulative here, are you?!

Jerry Webster  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 12:21 PM

Bill, Bill, Bill, Kate, Kate, Kate, you have to understand that Pam, Pam, Pam, Knows what he really meant to say not not what he said. And since we are anti VG we don't want anyone to have jobs. I mean the pro VG supporters have been so up front and honest about everything. right.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 11:15 AM

Oh that's just too cute, Pam. The fact is, he said the extra money allowed him to hire more people. C'mon. Get real.

Kate Nolan  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 11:14 AM

Pam, I simply listed what he said. His claims are very clearly made.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 10:15 AM

Kate Kate Kate, he's not saying that the money is what he used to pay the new hires. Just that with the increased revenue stream to the bar he is able to hire new employees. He never said he used the money to pay them. You folks will take anything you can to twist it to try and make it look bad won't you. So you'd rather three people didn't have jobs. You are a winner for sure.

Kate Nolan  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 12:12 AM

Jerry, before I retired, I was responsible for a venture with more than 50 employees. Even at minimum wage and with bare bones benefits these days, a single full-time employee would cost at least about $20k. So three, even at this ridiculously low estimate (that, frankly, I would be embarrassed to hire someone at) would be $60k. These are really lowest possible numbers. So the remaining $21k covers higher wages for other employees, resurfacing the parking lot, all new barstools, and remortaring the building? Plus all those donations to local nonprofits? I don't think so.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 11:34 PM

Kate, I wonder if any one else noticed that. A heck of a business man, did a heck of a lot with 81 grand, new employees should have eaten most of that up.

Kate Nolan  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 9:46 PM

$81k paid for three new employees, all new barstools, resurfacing the parking lot, and remortaring the building? And, if we are to believe other claims from the bars, lots of donations to non-profits. For $81k?

Jerry Webster  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 9:24 PM

Jolyn, I hope you are wrong about VG, mostly because of the sleazily way we got stuck with it. One of the things I find interesting is the village attorney's unwillingness to speak with the press. Why is that , afraid to tell the truth? The pro VG people keep using the arguments, half of which appear to be less than honest yet we are suppose to trust them, why would we? Just go by Doc Ryan's and see the 2 oversize signs, this what you can expect from the pro VG faction.

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 8:08 PM

Video gaming is probably here to stay. However it will not stop the need to create other tax generating entities and ways to raise revenue.

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