Rumors in Forest Park that the village council plans to take up the issue of video gambling in the coming months have spurred some business owners to take a pre-emptive stand against it.
Yearbook owner Noel Eberline said he caught wind of plans to bring up the issue again through his roles with the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and the village’s Economic Development Commission. Eberline said that when he reached out to Mayor Anthony Calderone, he was told the issue would likely be brought before the board in the next 30 to 60 days.
Eberline said he was stunned to hear his fellow Forest Park residents say things like, “It’s already a done deal.”
Since learning consideration of the issue was imminent, Eberline said he’s rallied other “non-liquor-license small business owners” to voice their concerns over allowing video gambling in Forest Park. Yearbook and at least eight other retail shops put signs in their windows to make their feelings against gaming heard loud and clear.
“I haven’t talked to a single owner of a business without a liquor license who thinks it’s a good thing,” Eberline said.
Business owners who said they don’t want gaming in the village said they aren’t coming out against the bar owners or bars per se.
“I support the bars; I like the bars,” said Lisa Dodge, owner of American Artwork Gallery. “We’re all for economic development; we want all of Forest Park to thrive.”
Likewise, Eberline said he hoped to see a packed room every time he looks across the street from his shop at Healy’s Westside, whose owner said a few weeks ago that he could go either way on the issue.
“If they’ve got a packed bar, that’s good for me, too,” Eberline said. “It means more people come by my store, more eyeballs for all the businesses on the street. I just don’t think video gaming is the best thing for everyone in Forest Park.”
Eberline said he’s not morally opposed to gambling either, although he is concerned about making revenue on other people’s losses. More than anything else, he said he feels the economics just don’t work — even though they seem attractive.
“People who support gaming like to talk about revenue, revenue, revenue,” Eberline said. “This village does need economic development, and I understand that it’s really attractive to the bar owners.”
However, he argued, even with the village getting a 5 percent cut of video gaming revenue in town, every $50,000 brought into the village’s coffers would require $1 million into the gaming machines.
“You’re not providing a product [to the consumer],” he said. “It’s a huge money drain on the community.”
The village would get $50,000, but people would have less money to spend in stores in Forest Park. And, he said, the vast majority of the money — about 60 percent — would go to the state and to the video gaming companies. He thought it was unlikely they would be reinvesting it in Forest Park.
For her part, Dodge said she’s not totally opposed to video gaming in Forest Park, mostly just allowing it on Madison Street. Dodge said she was concerned about the clientele that video gaming would bring in.
“People who are coming to play video gaming are not my customers,” she said.
Deedee & Edee owner Deb Dworman echoed those concerns and said that merchants like her have worked hard over the years to create a family-friendly and safe atmosphere on Madison Street, which she believes video gaming in the village would disrupt.
Retail owners in Forest Park who have come out against video gaming say they’d rather be associated with communities like Oak Park and River Forest, which they claim would never allow video gaming in their communities.
The businesses against video gaming said the village should do more to come up with an economic development plan that will benefit all the businesses of Forest Park, not just a few bar owners.