After three years in business as owner of Chalk, a bar in Forest Park, Matt Mathey is considering closing because other bars in neighboring towns have something he doesn’t.
“If we get gaming, I’ll stay,” he said. “It’s been a struggle these past three years and then you see the other guys [with video gambling] doing well.”
He, along with several other bar and bar/restaurant owners on Madison Street and the surrounding area, believe, despite a recent forum on the issue of video gambling that dispelled many negative misconceptions about the issue, it is still getting a bad rap. There is a group in the village working to put a referendum on the November ballot asking residents to vote on the issue of whether or not to allow video gambling in the village with the hope that voters opt to keep it banned.
Meanwhile other businesses, especially bar owners in the village, are asking, “Why not?”
Bar and bar/restaurant owners like Mathey, Ted Hosty and Martin Sorice believe that making video gambling available for their businesses would help both business and the village overall. They believe the push by some business owners and residents to keep video gambling out of the village is unwarranted, and they oppose the move to put the issue to a binding referendum when the village council, they believe, should have the final say.
Sorice, who owns several bars, such as Doc Ryan’s on Madison Street and the Pioneer Tap on Desplaines Avenue — and also owns other bar/restaurants outside of Forest Park that have video gambling — said he’s seen how it is a positive for businesses like theirs.
“Big and beautiful things are being built outside of Forest Park because they have video gambling,” he said. “I’d like the opportunity to have it.”
The added revenue from video gambling, he said, will help make their businesses more competitive when it comes to what they offer to customers and how their businesses look inside and out.
“We feel if we had gaming, we would be able to get the capital we need to make our places nicer,” he said.
Hosty, who owns the Old School Bar and Grill across the street from Pioneer Tap, said although they all have similar businesses, they would all benefit from video gambling.
“I think it’s good for the town, not bad for the town,” he said.
Concerns by residents of a “negative element” coming to the village as a result of video gambling is one issue that has been brought up, according to Sorice, but that and other concerns were dispelled at a village forum on July 12. He said he has not had a problem at his businesses where he has video gambling in place.
There is a lot of speculation on the negative effects from those opposing it, he added, but no evidence.
Speculation and actual evidence are two different things, he said, noting that he and similar business owners have remained silent on the issue until now.
“We are really, really depressed that it is our own business community that is attacking us without any evidence,” he added.
The group said they were all against video gambling cafes and large video gambling signage.
Mathey believes at the end of the day it’s all about making money to keep his business doors open, and it has been tough getting customers, but he is seeing other businesses flourish because they have something he doesn’t.
“Video gambling is a business tool for bars and restaurants,” he said. “Pool tables and darts are getting old and for other businesses like mine, video gambling is giving people a reason to come out after work instead of going home. Video gambling is saving their businesses.”
With the additional revenue from video gambling, he said, his competitors in surrounding villages are able to cut prices on drinks and offer discounted food specials to attract customers. Mathey said he can’t compete with that.
Hosty said that those pushing to not allow video gambling in the village don’t represent all of the residents.
“Just because 20 to 30 people say they don’t want it doesn’t mean that everyone else [feels that way],” he said.
Sorice believes the voice of business owners in Forest Park need to be heard and residents are encouraged to stop by their businesses to get their view on video gambling.
“This would help us stay in business,” he said. “It would help us evolve to where we can actually win. This would allow us to grow, allow us to evolve.”