On Thursday, Jan. 10, Forest Park residents gathered at St. Peter’s Church to learn the facts and express their opinions regarding video gambling, an adult entertainment currently banned in the village, and formerly prohibited in the state until 2009.
The forum was presented by Citizens United in Forest Park and featured speakers Tim Lattner, a licensed terminal operator and president of Lattner Entertainment Group, Kathy Gilroy, whose anti-gambling activism helped make gambling addiction helpline information mandatory on gaming machines, and Stan Zegel, publisher of the Winfield Register, who recounted that suburb’s experience with the issue.
Mayor Anthony Calderone hosted a citizens meeting about future video gambling on Oct. 25, 2012 and then cancelled a second meeting.
“We saw this as an opportunity to continue the dialog,” said Steve Backman of CUinFP.
When Lattner was given the floor, among the first comments he made distanced his operation and this new state system from gambling’s sometimes unseemly reputation.
In Illinois, Lattner asserted, “It’s gonna be a highly regulated business. Everything you’re not hearing is that it’s really forcing the bad guys out because they can’t compete in a regulated market. [T]his is all out in the open and it’s done by state law and the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).”
Part of being out in the open is the fact that the IGB publicly publishes monthly revenue reports for every gaming machine in the state, at www.igb.illinois.gov/revreports.
Also, as Lattner said, “The rates and returns are in the statute.” Of the profits, 25 percent goes to the state, five percent to the municipality, 35 percent to the licensed machine operator, and 35 percent to the licensed establishment, which Illinois law deems to be bars, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations.
As for the payouts, Lattner said, “These machines are very loose. They’re not like the gray machines that were out there these past 20 years that were very tight.” (“Gray machines” are “for amusement only” devices that were legal to play, but illegal to pay out, so winnings were “sometimes awarded under the counter.”)
“I am in business to place these machines in host locations that want it. There’s a lot of people who don’t want it,” Lattner said. “I respect their opinion; I think that’s fine. But from my perspective, it’s just another tool for the local establishments to help keep their doors open.”
According to Lattner’s website, Healy’s Westside (managed by Forest Park Commissioner Mark Hosty) and Doc Ryan’s have both contracted with Lattner Entertainment.
Illinois currently set the cap at five machines per establishment (which the machine operator has to pay for), though Lattner remarked, “I don’t see very many places in Forest Park warranting more than two or three.”
Anti-gambling advocate Kathy Gilroy worried that villages such as “Forest Park would relinquish all control to the Illinois legislature, which, in their desperate attempts to raise revenue, could increase the number of slots allowed from the current five to 10 or more.”
Gilroy justified that concern by saying, “Cook County has already approved a tax of $800 per machine.” Also, “the state did raise taxes on casinos after they opened, and, less than a year after the 10th and last one opened, tried to double the number of casinos allowed.”
“Do you trust that the state will not try to tap every spigot of money that they can?” Gilroy asked.
Gilroy sees video gambling as a losing progression: “First, food and drink sales decrease because that money is going into slots. Sales at other Forest Park businesses decrease because that money is also going into slots. Employees embezzle from their employers to play the slots. Then the money in the slots is taxed at a higher rate by the county and state, hurting Forest Park bars.”
The thrust of Gilroy’s statement was the social costs of gambling. The Villa Park resident claimed gambling produces “a 1 percent addiction rate” and that “over 9,000 people in Illinois have become so addicted that they have volunteered to be arrested if they are caught in an Illinois casino.” She would later say there is no regulation of the self-exlcusion program at neighborhood slot machines.
Gilroy cited an unnamed GAO report where “government officials in South Carolina and Montana” stated, “The atmosphere of convenience gambling created a negative environment and stigma in communities, which hurt local commerce and residential areas and had a detrimental effect on community investment.”
In closing that section of her comments, Gilroy said, “Gambling is not new business. It simply redirects what could have been sales for Forest Park [businesses], even church collection baskets, mortgages and rent.”
“Video gambling,” Gilroy continued, “was born of corruption [and] the corruption in Illinois has already started.”
Corruption surrounding video gambling was not news to journalist Stan Zegel, the evening’s final speaker, who stated that his hometown Winfield board was “so out of control that the State’s Attorney has put them on probation.”
The animated newsman recalled that when the board overturned the video gambling ban, the public organized a “binding referendum” on the ballot because, unlike normal petitions that end up as ballot measures, the results of this vote cannot be disregarded or reversed. “The commission can never repeal it,” he said, “and there’s nothing in the statute that allows an election the other way.”
Zegel also cautioned residents to disregard any arguments that interested parties might make concerning money because “you have to bet a quarter of a million dollars before the village gets $1,000. Those are the statutory rates. If you want $300,000, that’s $75 million that has to be bet.”
More than anything else, Zegel stressed that whether one is for or against video gambling, “It really gets down to what you want, and how you want people to think of Forest Park. [W]hat’s the image you want Forest Park to have?”
During the Q&A, a man who identified himself as a retired Vietnam veteran stated that while he respected Gilroy’s ethical stance, “I want the freedom to be able to go and play at a gambling machine if I want.”
Forest Park resident Mark Waldron said the village has worked very hard the past generation to upgrade the quality of Madison Street, and he doesn’t feel adding gambling will “elevate it to the degree that it has been elevated in the last 20 years. In fact, I think there’s the possibility that if we don’t have gambling in Forest Park, we could become the place where people go for great entertainment, for more upscale entertainment, for a bar crowd that isn’t gambling and … why not preserve our image of being a destination place for people from the surrounding communities?”
Bar owners, such as Murphy’s Pub’s Matt Mathey, said the opposite effect is taking place. Mathey told the Review, “All these people are going to Berwyn and Brookfield, North Riverside, the other towns to gamble.”
Due to the economy, Mathey has been watching business slow for the past six to seven months. “This is the worst. I’ve had customers, my delivery truck drivers, my beer guys, guys who have been in the business 25 years, they’ve never seen anything like this. It’s concerning. You stay up at night and worry about how you’re going to pay the bills.”
Mathey doesn’t believe video gambling will create great social ills any more than he’s expecting a windfall of returns on a video gambling investment. “No one’s going to throw their paychecks into these machines,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be this insane amount of money people are going to be spending. It’s a little money that will help me pay my cable bill or my electric bill. … That’s how I look at it.”
Clarification: Kathy Gilroy was quoted in this article as citing an article from the California Council of Problem Gambling which linked addicitive gambling to theft. Robert Jacobson, the Executive Director of the California Council on Problem Gambling, said the study was not theirs, and added was not aware of a study which specifically examined the number of gamblers who committed crimes to support their addiction. However, he noted that, “A 2006 prevalence study conducted in California indicates that problem and pathological gamblers are over 2 ½ times as likely to be arrested and about 3.25 times as likely to spend time in jail than the average person.”
—Jean Lotus contributed to this article