In the latest chapter of an ongoing saga, the Forest Park Village Council voted Monday to legalize video gaming in the village.
However, organizers of a petition drive to place a referendum on video gaming on the spring election ballot will continue the saga until at least Jan. 3, the deadline for filing petitions, or even April 4, when the election will be held.
Although village officials voted 4-0 with one abstention to legalize video gaming in the village, multiple developments remain, which likely will stretch the process into 2017.
“We have a number of steps to take” before video gaming will actually exist in the village, said Mayor Anthony Calderone, who abstained from voting.
He later explained that he felt it was in his best interest to abstain since he also serves as the village liquor control commissioner.
The village’s application process has to be finalized although Calderone said that will happen “in short order.”
However, video gaming applications also must be approved by state of Illinois officials, who, he explained, have their own criteria, which “could take a couple of months.”
It remains to be seen how many bar and restaurant owners will be willing to pay over $5,000 in fees for a Class V supplemental liquor license, which would allow video gaming, for an activity that could end in a matter of months, depending on a possible binding referendum.
Restaurant and bar owners in the village have pressed village officials to allow video gaming in Forest Park, claiming they cannot compete with similar businesses in other villages that have it. But there have been at least three attempts by those in opposition of video gaming to get a referendum on the ballot to allow local voters to decide on the issue.
The move by Patrick Jacknow, a local realtor, and other residents to place a binding referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot was met by legal challenges that kept the issue off the ballot, but Jacknow and others are working to try again in the spring.
With many of the overflow crowd standing along the back and side walls of the council chambers Monday, village officials had set up two podiums for public comment, one for those in favor of video gaming and the other for those against it.
Of the nine residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting, only one supported video gaming. Many of those who spoke against video gaming also criticized village officials for taking action now rather than waiting for the results of the proposed referendum.
Noel Eberline of Yearbook drew applause when he said having a third podium for those wanting village officials to wait until after the proposed referendum would have “a line out the door.”
Although several other anti-video gaming speakers also drew applause for their comments, pro-video gaming supporters made their presence known with loud applause after the vote was taken.
Commissioners Joseph Byrnes and Tom Mannix addressed calls for them to delay the vote until after the proposed referendum by noting the council action does not prevent residents from collecting signatures and forcing a vote on the issue.
Referring to the legalization of video gaming as a “trial basis,” Byrnes said, “If it’s not working, I’ll be the first one to vote it down.”
In response to Commissioner Rachell Entler’s question, Calderone explained that the ordinance prohibits signage on the exterior of a building.
Entler also asked about so-called “video cafes,” a concern many residents have shared at video gaming forums and elsewhere. Unlike bars and restaurants that draw in regular patrons to eat or drink and offer video gaming on the side, the primary purpose of a video café is video gaming.
Calderone responded by explaining that wording in the ordinance will make it impossible, or at least very difficult, for a video café to open in Forest Park. He said a Class V license will only be available to a business holding a Class A liquor license for at least a year. He also noted that all Class A licenses are taken and no new ones can be issued unless an existing Class A license holder relinquishes his license or the number of licenses available is increased, which can happen only by village council action.
In response to a question from Commissioner Dan Novak, Calderone went on to explain that the ordinance creates the Class V license category but does not make any available. The decision on how many Class V licenses to make available will be made by the council at a future meeting, he said.
If each of the 42 eligible businesses pay the $5,000 Class V license fee and each business elects to install five video gaming terminals — the most allowed — and pay the $25 per terminal fee, the village could realize as much as $250,000 annually, Calderone said. However, he noted not all of the 42 eligible businesses are likely to apply and not all those that do are likely to opt for the maximum number of terminals.
After the meeting, Calderone defended taking the action now rather than waiting for the results of the proposed referendum.
“This has been under consideration for a year and a half,” he said. “There has been a village public forum, other public forums and official discussion.
“It’s a contentious issue but sooner or later we have to take action.”