A group of Forest Parkers last week formed a ballot initiative committee, adding the latest wrinkle in a years-old fight over whether to allow video gaming in the village.
The group — about 20 or so residents and business owners opposed to video gaming in the village — filed paperwork on Dec. 5 with the Illinois Board of Elections and now has access to a digital copy of current Forest Park voter rolls, which the committee’s treasurer, Kristin McCoy, said will help the group’s organization. The Forest Park Village Council unanimously approved video gaming on Oct. 24. Since then, 17 Forest Park bars and restaurants have applied for licenses with the Illinois Gaming Board.
“The goal has been the same the whole time. We want to bring this question to a vote,” Jordan Kuehn, the committee’s chairperson, said. “This is now our second effort.”
A previous petition effort to put the question on November’s ballot failed to get enough valid resident signatures. Forest Parkers in 2013 rejected video gaming in a non-binding village referendum by a significant margin. Illinois legalized video gaming statewide in 2012 and several surrounding communities, including neighboring Berwyn, already permit the practice.
The group is working to collect enough signatures by the Jan. 3 deadline for placement on the April ballot. Right now, McCoy said, the group has around 2,000 signatures. The 2009 Illinois Video Gaming Act requires signatures from 25 percent of “legal voters” to initiate a binding referendum. The primary purpose of the committee was access to the voter rolls, but McCoy did say it could be used to fundraise, if necessary. There are also plans for more public outreach including through social media and a flier campaign.
“Down the road, we’ll worry about money,” McCoy said. “But we’d love if people want to donate.”
A binding referendum on the gaming issue would trump the council’s October move, a goal the committee, called Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, hopes to achieve.
Mark Hosty, manager of Healy’s Westside, meanwhile, filed three petitions with Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz in November in an effort, some allege, to prevent an up-or-down video gaming vote to appear on the April 2017 ballot, which has a limited number of referendum spots. Jan. 10 is the deadline for challenges to referenda petitions.
The Forest Park bar community has led the effort to allow video gaming, arguing that restricting gambling puts their businesses at a disadvantage and starves Forest Park of additional revenue. In neighboring Berwyn, for instance, the community’s 59 gaming locales (255 total machines) netted the city $460,941 through November 2016, according to Illinois Gaming Board records. Brookfield’s 15 establishments have netted that village $144,208 through November of this year, which is a more representative comparison with Forest Park. North Riverside’s 12 establishments with video gaming (five of which are gaming parlors, one located in a gas station mini-mart) has cleared $151,077 through November.
Kuehn hopes the issue will eventually come before the entire village, in a spring 2017 vote — or after.
“Everything that has been done up until now has kept the voices of residents out,” Kuehn said.