Should Forest Park welcome video gaming? This is the question Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris plans to discuss in cyberspace Wednesday in a Facebook Virtual Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Harris announced the online event at the village council meeting, July 9, saying that members of the video gaming industry and local tavern owners would be participating.
“It’s just a discussion,” said Harris, who supports video gaming as a moneymaker for the village, and notes that it could be instituted “on a trial basis for a year.”
The state of Illinois legalized licensed video gambling machines in 2009, which initially led to a flurry of municipalities passing ordinances saying “no thanks” to the income.
Some of those communities have changed their mind, and local ordinances in Brookfield, Berwyn and Lyons, among others, have been written to override previous bans on gambling, including the new video gaming machines.
One participant in the online discussion will be Matt Mathey, owner of Murphy’s Pub in Forest Park.
“The government passed it three years ago. I’ve filled out applications with the state and the Department of Justice. My wife and I have been fingerprinted. We’re ready to go.”
Mahey said he thinks his bar could earn up to $70,000 per year in profits, and that the village might earn up to $300,000 per year in tax revenues.
According to state law, 70 percent of video terminal profits are split evenly between the venue – in this case a Forest Park bar, which can have up to five video terminals – and the gaming company. Twenty five percent would go to the state of Illinois and five percent to the Village of Forest Park.
Presently, an ordinance from the late 1990s prohibits gambling within the village of Forest Park. To allow the state law to take effect, the village council would have to amend or replace the ordinance.
When they do, Commissioner Mark Hosty is ready to install video gambling machines in his bar, Healy’s West Side. On Lattner Entertainment’s website, Hosty is quoted as saying in a testimonial, “We’re looking forward to the fall of 2012 when games ‘Go Live’ in Illinois.”
Lynn Morris, of Moriss Gaming, will participate in the Facebook discussion. She said the maximum bet is $2 and the maximum payout from the machines is $500. “The ticket is either scanned at a cash payout system similar to an ATM or given to the location’s staff to redeem their winnings.”
But Village Administrator Tim Gillian says the village is in no hurry to support video gaming in Forest Park.
“Internally, I’ve been fielding questions,” he said. “I’ve had companies who call me once a week who want to lease the machines. We have to make sure the community has all the protections we can offer.”
Forest Park has a colorful history of literally underground (the now-defunct Armory Lounge had a second members-only restaurant in the basement) and semi-underground gambling rings in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. More than one police chief of the village was said to have “looked the other way” at local “bookjoints.” As recently as the 1990s, a mob-sponsored floating craps game in Forest Park was detailed in testimony by B.J. Jahoda during the well publicized trial of Rocco Infelice and associates.
But supporters think this is different.
“This is run by the state,” said Mahey. “It’s like the lottery.”
“What may or may not have happened in [the past] is not really relevant here,” said Gillian.
The Facebook event can be found at the Forest Park Town Hall Facebook page.