Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone said Friday that the village has no immediate plans to bring up for a second time the issue of whether to allow video gaming in Forest Park.
Calderone said the issue was brought up last year in early summer in a discussion by commissioners considering possible revenue streams for the village. For that reason, he said, the issue could be brought to the village for consideration again this year.
“We don’t have an active conversation going, and it’s not on any agenda yet,” Calderone said. “But I suspect we will touch on it again at some point.”
He wasn’t able to give a timeline for when that discussion might happen, noting that any comment about the issue would be purely speculation at this point. He would also be speculating if he commented on how the public would be notified of any discussion by the board on the issue. Calderone said he could not say at this point whether there would be a town hall forum held again, as was the case when the issue was brought up previous to a failed referendum on video gaming in 2013.
Forest Park resident and former commissioner Marty Tellalian said his biggest concern is that there won’t be enough of an opportunity for public input if it is brought up before the board this year.
“I think the people have spoken and they spoke clearly,” Tellalian said of the results of the 2013 non-binding referendum.
When the issue was first brought up then, Tellalian didn’t have strong feelings about video gaming one way or the other. However, over time he has grown more concerned about the potential for video gaming to negatively impact the community.
“I think it’s something that won’t be readily apparent,” Tellalian said. “It will take five, 10 years to see how the impact will be felt.”
As an example, he worries that as other businesses close over time, only bars that offer video gaming might come to replace them. If that happens, Tellalian said it would impact the work the village has done to create a downtown with a mix of desirable businesses, not just bars.
“Businesses turnover, it happens,” Tellalian said. “I wouldn’t want to see them only replaced by businesses that offer video gaming. When it comes down to it, what are these establishments [that offer video gaming]? Are they casinos first that serve drinks and food?”
Doc Ryan owner Matt Sullivan said he would again support bringing video gaming to Forest Park.
Sullivan said that from his perspective, Forest Park bar owners are getting hurt by competition from bars in other towns that do allow gaming, but not in the way you’d think.
“What we’ve seen is that those bars are able to lower their prices because they have this other revenue coming in,” Sullivan said. “If we were to drop our prices, we would go out of business.”
The additional revenue stream allows bar in communities like Berwyn, which allows video gaming, to be more flexible, Sullivan said. If video gaming were allowed in Forest Park, the bar owners could better compete against price reductions in other towns.
Additionally, he said, it’s what customers want. He believes he has lost customers who want to play the gaming machines when they learn his bar does not offer them.
Sullivan said he thinks most of the other bar owners in the community feel the same way, based on conversations he’s had with them. He doesn’t believe video gaming hurts people’s impressions of a community.
“Maybe back at the start if you were one of the first communities to allow it,” Sullivan said, “but at this point, it’s around and, no, I don’t think it hurts people’s impression.”
Calderone said if residents want to make their feelings known, they are welcome to share their opinion at the village council meetings during public comment.
But voters already rejected the issue in the 2013 non-binding referendum by a 2-1 margin, Tellalian said. If the village wants to bring up the issue again, it should be the village convincing the public of its merits, not the other way around.
“If you can’t get the community behind it, you shouldn’t have it,” he said.