Voters may be allowed to weigh-in on video gambling’s future in Forest Park.

A special meeting of the Forest Park Village Council is scheduled for Tuesday Jan. 22 to propose putting an advisory referendum question on the April 9 ballot.

The morning meeting, which was announced on Thursday, will be the first official discussion of the future of video gambling inForest Parkby the council.

Since state-sponsored video gaming went “live” last fall in neighboring towns, the village has been discussing whether or not to amend the local ordinance forbidding gambling of any kind inForest Park. Neighboring villages of North Riverside,BrookfieldandBerwynamended their village ordinances with specific language allowing video gaming.Maywood,Oak ParkandRiverForestdo not.

Mayor Anthony Calderone hosted a public town hall on Oct. 25, 2012 to listen to residents’ opinions on the subject. Last week, Citizens United inForest Parkhosted a video gaming forum with a representative from the gaming industry. Also attending were an anti-gambling activist and a Winfield newspaper publisher who chronicled the effort of his town to put the issue to referendum.

TheForest Parkmeasure would be a non-binding, or simply an advisory to village trustees. Jan. 22, is that last day that a municipality can adopt a resolution to put referendum language on the ballot, Calderone said.

A paper survey, he added, will also go out in the next few days.

“This is a divisive issue and I think it’s important the public weigh in on it,” Calderone said, adding that he’d also like to host a second and possibly a third forum before the election.

Calderone said the village would provide fact sheets for the participants at these forums on information he’s gathered. One example: from the Illinois Gaming Board website, which reports monthly income from every machine and by municipality.

“What we discovered is that the financial impact [to the municipalities] is not what we were given,” the mayor said.

Representatives from video gaming companies had estimated thatForest Parkcould earn $300,000 per year in revenue. 

“Looking at the numbers, even the greatest month from city to city, for say,Berwyn, the amount was about $4,000,” Calderone said. “ThevillageofForest Parkdoes not stand to gain $300,000. That was a pie in the sky number to begin with.”

Calderone characterized the Oct. 25 forum as, “overwhelmed by the business community.”

“Being a businessman myself, I understand it,” he said. “Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to make more money. But there’s a social component and we need to look at the social issue in its totality.”

Calderone said the issue is so new toIllinoisthat there is little experience to determine if video gambling would, for instance, sap police resources.

The issue would not be on a village agenda until after the election and forums, the mayor insisted. He said he would then, however, have it as a discussion item at a board meeting to gage whether commissioners wanted to draft an ordinance to change the local gambling rules.

Commissioner conflict of interest

But Calderone was clear that if such an ordinance were put to a vote he would ask the Village Clerk not to call the vote of Commissioner Mark Hosty, who is manager of Healy’sWest Sidewhich has applied for a video poker license.

“If it comes to that point, I would think that Mark would voluntarily abstain from voting,” Calderone said. “It would be the right thing to do. There’s always a likelihood based on results of the referendum and based on a public forum, that maybe there’s never even an ordinance presented. The commissioners might say ‘We’ve heard from the public and let’s leave things as is.'”

Calderone stressed that there was no hurry to make a decision on video gambling

“We’re a safe haven right now. We can wait three, four or five months and it wouldn’t matter, other than the business owners being upset. We could do nothing and nothing changes.”

 

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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