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Just saying yes to video gaming in Forest Park would be easy. The town is filled with bar and restaurant customers, the sort of folks the state government pictured as easy marks when it OKd local video gambling in villages and towns across the state back in 2009.
There was an initial flurry of resistance from municipalities wary of inviting vice into their burgs. Yes, we said vice. Gambling is a vice not a virtue. And the dangers of gambling are as real for the individual plunking down the $2 bet as for the town which profits from it.
Did we mention that the state gets 25 percent of every dollar the mark drops in a machine? That the municipality gets an easy five percent of the take? That the gaming company gets 35 percent and the bar hosting the machines gets the remaining 35 percent? That's the split. And we get that it is tempting for all concerned.
That initial flurry of rectitude from local towns now seems to be waning as neighbors like Berwyn, Brookfield and Lyons have now "un-banned" gambling within their borders. Now we have two Forest Park commissioners pushing the idea, though from different corners.
Commissioner Chris Harris, whose impulse for public discussion we greatly admire, will host a Facebook Town Hall this evening. He says members of the video gaming industry (35 percenters) and local tavern owners (35 percenters) will participate and that the public is invited to join in. Not sure where the voices of Gamblers Anonymous (0 percenters) or the police department (five percenters) fit into this discussion though we'd be interested in their views.
Harris has said that he supports Forest Park allowing video gaming, at least on a one-year trial basis. Commissioner, you ever tried to take a bottle away from a baby?
Meanwhile Commissioner Mark Hosty has made his feelings known in a testimonial on the site of one of the industry vendors, Lattner Entertainment. "We're looking forward to the Fall of 2012, when games 'Go Live' in Illinois." Since Hosty owns a bar, possesses a Forest Park-issued liquor license, and stands to profit directly from video gaming, we can only assume he will recuse himself when it comes time for the village council to decide this issue.
As is often the case, we prefer the approach of Village Administrator Tim Gillian. He told us he is being pitched weekly by gaming companies which want a foothold in the village. But he says he isn't in a rush to open this door. We agree.
We understand our view is old school. But states and villages are expressly in the business of serving their constituents. Profiting from their weaknesses and addictions isn't our view of service.
One local bar owner who is advocating for video gaming believes his tavern can clear $70,000 annually, that the village could win $300,000. Those numbers might be invented, but if they are right, then by our calculations there would need to be $6 million in bets placed in Forest Park in a single year. At $2 a pop you have changed the culture of having a drink or a meal along Madison Street. And not for the better.
Forest Park has spent 15 years creating an image as a welcoming and comfortably sophisticated place to drink and dine. There are red flags here. The village would be wise to go cautiously.