By Nona Tepper
Illinois' highest court on June 6 declined to hear Forest Park bar owners' case for stopping a village-wide vote on video gaming.
The state Supreme Court chose not to hear the appeal of James Watts, owner of O'Sullivan's Public House, who asked the court to knock the question "Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?" off the November election ballot.
The question is binding, which means that if a majority of Forest Parkers were to vote against the practice, video gaming — which is now allowed — will be outlawed in the village.
"We're disappointed," Watts said. "We are prepared to have it on the referendum. We think residents of Forest Park will understand the value of the revenue that's raised by gaming for the village and the business community."
He estimated video gaming will bring in approximately $200,000 for Forest Park this fiscal year, which he said will help plug the village's more than $1 million deficit. "It would be very difficult for the village to fill that void without some form of tax increases" otherwise, he added. In addition to generating revenue for the village, he said, video gaming is keeping bar and restaurant owners' businesses afloat, and several have reinvested the money in community institutions.
Holding public hearings to get residents amped up about video gaming is something bar owners would do ahead of the November election, said Watts, noting that he's not yet sure of his next legal step since he hasn't had a chance to speak with his attorney. James Nally is on vacation until July 16, and did not respond to interview requests. His office said they would not comment on his cases while he was away.
Ed Mullen, attorney for the Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming political action committee, said the Appellate Court must still issue a mandate to the Cook County Circuit Court.
"In my experience, the mandate will tell the Circuit Court and the Forest Park Electoral Board that the referendum will be on the ballot. That's my expectation, but until we get it I'm not sure what it will say," said Mullen, adding that he expects the appellate court to issue the mandate soon.
There is still a pending appeal at the appellate level — bar owners contend that signatures Let Forest Park Vote gathered before the last general election in April 2017 should be dismissed — but Mullen said he doesn't know how bar owners could pursue that line of reasoning since courts have already ruled against that argument. He is confident the binding referendum will appear on the November ballot.
"Honestly, I think this is how the Forest Park Electoral Board should have decided in the first instance," Mullen said. "We shouldn't have had to deal with the Supreme Court and everything else."
Jordan Kuehn, president of Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, said he's glad the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case. Come November, Kuehn said he will vote against video gaming.
"Personally, I think it looks tacky. I'm also upset about the way it was brought into place," he said. "I think our current village representatives did not serve the constituents like they should have. I think they decided to bring it in based on whatever they wanted, certainly not based upon the feelings of the people they represent."
Before the November vote, Kuehn said his group will likely hold a few informational sessions for residents, where they'll present data and specific studies about how video gaming has affected the Chicagoland area.
"I just hope everyone gets out, votes and contributes to the discussion," he said.