Rumors that Forest Park would soon re-examine the issue of whether to allow video gaming were directly addressed at the village council’s March 28 meeting.
Noel Eberline, owner of Yearbook, a shop on Madison Street, spoke to commissioners during public comment at the meeting and urged them to vote against video gambling, or to at least provide a public forum on the issue before taking a vote.
Yearbook was one of at least eight businesses to come out against video gaming in Forest Park last week by putting up signs in their windows to voice their opposition. The move by the retail businesses followed several weeks of residents putting up yard signs in their lawns against allowing gaming.
The organized effort may have pushed the conversation to a head.
Forest Park commissioners Rachell Entler and Joe Byrnes said they received messages from residents who are opposed and others who are supportive of video gaming in town. The thing is, they both said, the issue was not on the agenda and the board had not discussed plans to tackle it.
Likewise, commissioners Tom Mannix and Daniel Novak said they had no plans to bring the issue up before the board and had not heard of any plans to do so. Both said they were not ready to make a decision and wanted more information about gaming first.
Entler and Byrnes attended a public forum held in Riverside, March 18, on video gaming as the community there continues to mull over the same issue. Entler said she went to do research.
“I’m interested in learning more and I thought it was a good opportunity,” she said. “The biggest reason I went is that it’s a sticky topic in town and I wanted to educate myself.”
Entler and Byrnes both said they probably wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for all the talk in Forest Park about the issue being a done deal. Entler said that, until recently, the last she heard about video gaming was during a budget meeting last year when it was brought up as a possible revenue source.
Eberline’s calls for a forum as an immediate next step at the village council meeting may have actually moved the conversation forward. Eberline told commissioners that by announcing a meeting, they could help quell rumors in town that the issue was decided.
Days before, Byrnes said this: “Someone on the board will need to bring it up for discussion. Just by the fact that people are talking about it so much might make that happen. The issue will get pushed; eventually someone will ask us to address it.”
And so Eberline did.
The board discussed how to move forward on video gambling at the meeting during commissioners’ reports. No date was set for a forum, but commissioners began the process by making requests to village staff for more information. Commissioners were specifically interested in the impact on crime in communities that allow video gaming, the impact on local businesses and property values, and in revenue projections that gambling might provide the village.
Byrnes and Entler were adamant that approving video gaming in Forest Park is not decided, as many in the opposition fear. Both said they would not allow a vote on the issue without a public forum and suggested the village should hold a moderated meeting, similar to the one in Riverside.
“There won’t be anything done without a forum,” Byrnes said. “When I ran, I said if we have to look into the issue again, that’s fine. Things may have changed in three years [since an advisory referendum opposing video gaming in Forest Park], but this will not just be brought up in a meeting and voted on.”
Entler and Byrnes both said they were surprised by the number of messages they’ve received on the subject and about the tone of some of those messages.
“People are saying I took money,” Byrnes said of some residents opposed to video gaming who think he supports it.
Following the meeting, Mayor Anthony Calderone said he’s keeping an open mind about the issue, and has not yet decided one way or the other.
“I think the amount of talk about all this has certainly expedited the process,” he said.
Calderone said he would have likely brought the issue up as a possible revenue source when commissioners addressed the village’s budget this year in April, or around then.
The possible revenue that video gaming would bring, he said, was an important consideration in whether to allow it in the village, as many nearby town towns already have.
But even if the public’s vocal opposition in recent weeks brought the issue to a head at the meeting, it has also guaranteed that there will be more opportunity for debate.
“I fully commit to hosting a public forum on the issue,” Calderone said. “I think there is a genuine desire of all five elected officials to take a look at this matter in a meaningful, professional and adult way.”