Forest Park commissioners agreed Monday evening to plan a public forum on the issue of video gaming by the end of May.
At the start of the meeting, public comment was again dominated by residents and business owners coming out for and against video gaming in the community. Several of the speakers during public comment were familiar faces in the discussion, including Yearbook owner Noel Eberline and FatDuck owner Dennis Miller.
Some of the comments focused on a memo from Village Administrator Tim Gillian to the council on the village’s findings regarding questions about the issue.
At the council’s March 28 meeting, commissioners directed staff to provide them with more information on eight questions they had pertaining to the gaming discussion. These included the possible impact gaming would have on crime, property values, how any revenue would be allocated and potential signing restrictions.
Several speakers questioned the village’s findings, particularly regarding the estimated revenue that gaming could bring the village. Resident Kate Noland said she believed the estimated revenue was too high. Resident Matthew Brown said he believed Gillian’s report sounded overly “pro-gaming.”
Other speakers, including Miller, said any revenue was better than no revenue. Miller, a resident of Westmont, said he has seen little impact from video gaming on his community, so much so that he didn’t even know Westmont allowed gaming until recently.
Several of the eight questions on video gaming directed to staff were difficult for the village to find solid data on. These included the question of crime, for which no data exists, Gillian wrote in the memo. However, Police Chief Tom Aftanas reported that after calling police chiefs in communities that allowed gaming, none had experienced an uptick in crime that could be attributed to having the machines. The village also found data hard to come by on the impact on home values and on non-qualifying businesses. But, the report read, gaming did not appear to be a factor with homebuyers, and area chambers of commerce did not report any negative impacts on non-qualifying businesses.
The village’s ability to restrict signage was also difficult to report definitively. Village Attorney Nick Peppers said the village could restrict signage uniformly under the village’s sign code. However, it was more difficult to say that the village could restrict signs promoting gaming if the type of sign was otherwise permitted by the village’s code. For example, the village could restrict all neon signs in windows in Forest Park, but could not necessarily restrict signs advertising the machine because of potential constitutional questions.
The report also provided some demographic information on who uses the gaming machines and tried to come up with an estimate on the revenue the terminals would bring in. For example, between January and March, Berwyn brought in $117,866 in revenue from gaming with 207 total machines at 49 locations. On the low end, Hillside reported $12,462 in local revenue with 12 machines at three locations.
Forest Park estimated that with 49 locations and 245 machines — five at each establishment — the village would collect $184,746 as the local share of the revenue. The estimated number of businesses offering gaming was based on the current number of qualifying establishments in the village.
The full report is available on the village’s website as part of the village’s April 25 agenda packet.
Commissioner Tom Mannix said he would like to see the village set a date for the public forum on video gaming as soon as possible so that the public could be informed early of the forum and prepare to attend. He also said he was concerned about the issue becoming heated and that public comments would become a battleground for personal attacks.
Mayor Anthony Calderone asked commissioners if they had a general idea of how they would like to see the forum run. Commissioners Rachell Entler and Joe Byrnes both said they believed a moderated forum, like one recently held in Riverside, would be a good model for the village to follow. Byrnes suggested Forest Park Chamber of Commerce Director Laurie Kokenes as a potential choice for forum moderator, as the council has declined to take a position on the issue and would be unbiased.
Under the proposed Riverside model, the forum would allow attendees to submit questions to be read by a moderator and answered by a recruited panel. For panelists, commissioners suggested area police chiefs, as well as mayors from towns that allow video gaming and those who decided against permitting it in their community.
Commissioner Entler suggested that the forum should try to include officials from towns with downtowns similar to Forest Park who have gone both routes, in order to keep the perspectives of the panelists balanced.
Gillian told the council that he would begin to come up with a list of potential panelists for them on Tuesday, which would then be presented to the board.
Commissioners ultimately decided they would like to see the forum held before the summer and agreed that the village should try to schedule it before the end of May, dependent on the availability of commissioners and panelists.
Mannix said he would like to see the forum held on a Saturday to make it easier for residents to attend.