In a 2013 non-binding referendum, the residents of Forest Park voted to maintain our ban on video gaming by more than a 2 to 1 margin — a landslide defeat. In a candidate forum prior to the village council election last April, all commissioner candidates were asked if they would “honor the results of the referendum and maintain the ban, yes or no.”
Commissioner [Tom] Mannix responded first and stated, “We need to have a public discussion about that issue.” After citing the need to evaluate revenue sources, Mannix concluded, “I’m not necessarily in support of video poker, but I believe from the people who have approached me, they need to have another discussion, and I think we owe that to the residents and families.”
Candidate [Rachell] Entler followed and stated she would “go with what Commissioner Mannix has stated” and that “we can’t go against the non-binding referendum until we have the chance to talk to the people of Forest Park.” She further stated that “a lot has changed in the last two years as far as statistics” that need to be looked at, presented to the public, and “go back to the public before we make any changes to that decision.”
Candidate [Joe] Byrnes stated that he “somewhat agreed with my compatriots” but “we have to survey at least 10 towns around us” to determine the impact on crime and the neighborhood. He agreed to follow public opinion when he stated that “getting the opinion of the people … community involvement, getting the people to put forward what they think is the best way to go with this. And if it is no, it’s no and if it is yes, it’s yes.”
Candidate [Dan] Novak responded last and felt “very similar” and stated that he was “definitely in favor of the dialog taking place. Information is the key. We need to hear from all sides. Residents, business owners should be heard. The revenue impact as well.” He closed by saying that video gaming should be brought forward “at least for dialog amongst the village council after input is received.”
The council held a budget meeting last year on June 24 soon after being sworn in. During the discussion on potential sources of new revenue, Mayor Calderone twice suggested video gaming and provided information on Berwyn’s gambling revenue. As stated at the meeting, Berwyn receives a yearly fee of $1,000 for each of their 191 machines and received approximately $30,000 for video gaming in the month of May alone. The mayor described Berwyn’s gambling revenue as “real money” and stated that we “probably need a little more analysis on that.”
Last week, I submitted a FOIA request to the village for “correspondence, documentation, and reports” sent or received by any member of the village council or the village administrator on video gaming since May. The village response consisted of a letter from the organization known as “Keep Forest Park Competitive,” asking for removal of the video gaming ban, a letter supporting the ban from a religious organization, an e-mail to Village Administrator Tim Gillian providing information on VG location restrictions, and an e-mail from Commissioner Novak to Gillian discussing an upcoming council meeting and asking, “Video gaming, any new updates/data?” and asking about VG changes in other towns.
If the commissioners honor their word as candidates, we should hear a lot before the council considers taking action on video gaming. We should expect “public discussion,” “talk to the people,” “community involvement,” “dialog,” “statistics,” and “surveys of surrounding communities.”
But be aware, some of the Forest Park bar owners want to have legalized gambling in their establishments, and they are communicating with the village. It is not surprising. For every $5 received by the village for video gaming, the state receives $25 and the video machine owner and bar owner each receives $35.
So don’t wait for our elected officials to ask your opinion. Please tell them what you think. Personally, I’m concerned that video gaming has the potential to change the nature of our village over the long term. To me, the additional revenue is not worth the long-term risk.
If you agree and want a yard sign, send a message to noVGinFP@gmail.com.
Marty Tellalian is a former Forest Park village commissioner.