After being rejected by voters three years ago, the issue of video gambling in Forest Park has arisen again with the possibility of another vote on the issue in November.
On July 12, about 70 people — residents, local business owners and village officials — came together at Forest Park Village Hall to discuss the pros and cons of allowing video gambling in the village as part of an open forum on the issue. A panel of experts, consisting of the mayor, the village attorney, an owner of a video gambling company, officials from villages that currently have video gambling, and two residents, one for and the other against video gambling.
Those in attendance wrote down questions or concerns about video gambling which were then collected and posed to the panelists.
Village resident Nick Ardinger, was the panelist opposed to video gambling being allowed in the village. He said that the way it would be set up in the village is sketchy at this point and should be left to the residents to decide through a referendum, not the village council.
“I am an opponent because the proponents have not made their case,” he said, noting it would be easy to bring in video gambling but wondering what impact would that would have on the village in the long run.
“How are we protecting the character of Forest Park?” he asked.
Ted Hosty, a proponent of video gambling, who co-owns a bar and grill in the village, said it’s time to bring this to the village. He believes it will give the village and area businesses, especially bars and restaurants in the village, a financial boost.
“We have empty storefronts that need to be addressed and proceeds from video gambling could address that,” he said.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said he is neutral on the issue of video gambling coming to the village. He has heard rumblings about a petition being passed around to put the issue on the ballot.
Calderone said the forum was put together to educate the public on the issue. If video gambling were approved, he said, they could look into formulating legislation to limit signage, and those businesses that would be eligible for video gambling machines would have to get a liquor license. Those businesses would have to have a component where food is cooked and served there.
According to the mayor, 65 liquor licenses have been issued in the village, with 49 eligible for video gambling.
Brookfield Police Chief James Episcopo addressed video gambling in Brookfield and how it relates to crime. He said video gambling hasn’t had a major impact on the village in terms of crime and attracting criminal activity. The village has had video gambling since 2012.
“We have 13 bars with five machines apiece in Brookfield,” he said. “We haven’t seen where anybody is going to come to my community for video gambling. It seems more like local patronage at our places.”
He added the only problem they’ve had is one incident where a person took another person’s video gambling winner coupon, which was later retrieved by police.
Another panelist Larry Forssberg, economic development director for the village of Westmont, told the audience his village has had no police service calls related to video gambling. There has been video gambling in Westmont for three years.
If video gambling were to come to the village it would get 5 percent of the generated revenue, 25 percent would go to the state, less than a percent would go toward system monitoring, and the rest would be split between the business owner and the owner of the video gambling machines.
Kathleen Gerrans, 47, who has lived in Forest Park for 15 years, said the idea of video gambling in the village has been very confusing to her and people she knows. She said she was glad she came to the forum to learn more about it.
She would vote in favor of video gambling if there is a referendum on the ballot.
“After listening to them, I’m OK with having them,” she said. “I’m not for the cafes but because it will help the businesses that are in Forest Park.”
That’s all Frank Battaglia, owner of Fat Duck Tavern and Grill in Forest Park, wants. He believes video gambling will help him and other similar businesses stay competitive.
“We’re the ones that don’t have it while the [other area businesses] do,” he said. “We just want to level the playing field, keep a competitive edge.”
Calderone said he does not know if there will be a referendum on the ballot in November, but if it were put on the ballot it would not be binding.