The issue of video gaming has again popped up in Forest Park, with a local political action committee demanding the right to vote on the practice in an upcoming election.
Jordan Kuehn, president of the Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming committee, said the group collected about 3,500 local signatures and submitted its petition to the village of Forest Park on Dec. 18, the last day to submit items to be included on the March 2018 ballot. The group seeks to get resident opinion on the question, “Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?” It is a binding referendum.
Forest Park’s local Election Board met Tuesday, Jan. 2, after the Review’s print deadline, to discuss the question and the timing of any future hearings.
Already James Watts, owner of O’Sullivans Public House at 7244 Madison St. has challenged the group’s petitions, questioning the validity of their signatures among other points, Kuehn said.
“I’m optimistic, I think we will prevail,” Kuehn said. “I think we have enough signatures. It’s a bit of a process because of the objections coming out. But I am confident we will see this question on the March ballot.”
Watts did not immediately respond to an interview request. O’Sullivan’s generated $54,092 in revenue from its five video gaming machines between January and November 2017, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. O’Sullivan’s paid $7,727 in municipal taxes on this income, according to the gaming board. There are 16 establishments in Forest Park that operate video gaming machines. By the end of November 2017, the village collected $51,089 in tax revenue from gaming at these bars and restaurants.
Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a committee which consists of about 15 people, has been collecting signatures to vote on the continued operation of gaming machines since November 2016, banking on the timing of the national presidential election because local voters were already out at their local polling places. The group needs to collect 25 percent of all registered local voters to get their question included on the March ballot, according to state video gaming law.
Forest Park has debated video gaming many times in recent years. In April 2016 a referendum question forwarded by the anti-gaming forces was blocked from the ballot by a state law limiting the number of referendum questions to three.
Mark Hosty, a former village commissioner who manages Healy’s Westside, worked to fill the three referendum slots with largely off-topic questions. There was one video gaming related question on the ballot but it did not ask voters for a thumbs up or down on gambling but rather whether the village government should be required to cut property taxes with any video gaming revenue.
Kuehn said Hosty hired circulators to get names for his petitions, which required signatures from only eight percent of local voters who cast ballots in the last Illinois gubernatorial election. He said this effort blocked inclusion of his PAC’s question.
But Kuehn said Hosty’s referendum question missed the point, which he said is: should video gaming be allowed in the village? He said Forest Park residents have twice been asked about their stance on the matter, and that the majority dislike the practice.
“The thing that drives me on this issue is the way it was brought about,” Kuehn said. “The village polled the town with a water bill several years back, and the village showed it was overwhelmingly against, 2-1 against from those who responded.”
Forest Park Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz did not immediately respond to questions of whether another resident like Hosty has filed any alternative petition questions this year to block Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming’s question from being on the March ballot. Hosty did not immediately respond to an interview request.
“It’s the way they went about doing this, ignoring the fact that people in town felt very strongly about this particular issue,” Kuehn said. “They decided to ignore the will of the people, that irks me and that’s my biggest motivation.”