Now that Forest Parkers have the opportunity to vote on video gambling, it is time to have the discussion about whether or not it should be legal in our village. It’s sure to be lively, and I hope it is civil.
People ask why I am against video gambling; I assure you I’m not a “teetotaler,” or a busybody, or an anti-capitalist, but I do have strong reasons why I will vote to return to keeping it illegal, as it had been since the village was incorporated. I understand why bar owners would want video gambling; if I could have a machine installed in our front yard that printed out money, yeah, I’d be tempted, so I can see why they have been fighting so hard to prevent Forest Parkers from voting on it, but I think relying on income from gambling is short-sighted, and will cost the village (and the bar owners) in the long run.
I believe the gambling machines threaten the hard-won improvements made to the village. When we first moved here 24 years ago, Madison was not an area where a lot of folks chose to spend their time and money, but with the hard work of dedicated individuals, it is now a great area to visit — there are lots of family-friendly stores and inviting shops and restaurants.
I spend a lot of money locally; our friends from neighboring towns come here to spend their money, and we bring guests from out of town. I believe the presence of video gambling machines undoes that hard work. Places with the machines now look and feel like low-end casinos instead of neighborhood bars. I have met folks from out of town (not involved in this debate) who expressed dismay at the changes in some local watering places with the presence of these machines.
It’s important to know that while we don’t have gambling signs now, the sign solution the village came up with will not withstand a challenge in court; our own village attorney said so. I don’t trust that the bar owners (or the large, powerful gaming industry) won’t make the same argument for signs that they made for having the machines. In the beginning, bar owners said they needed gambling machines to be able to compete with bars in Berwyn. How long before they say they need signs so they can compete with the bars in Berwyn who have signs? And frankly, with the shenanigans that have gone on over this issue, I don’t trust anything that isn’t legally binding. (For that matter, the per-machine fees that the village is currently charging also wouldn’t hold up in court because we are not a home-rule municipality, so that income could disappear.)
Who are we as a town? What’s more important to us in our hometown, the quality of life in our village or less than half a percent of our budget in income from gambling? As a village, we often choose quality over money. It costs money to have fireworks on the Fourth of July, as does planting and maintaining flowers on Madison, but we, as a community, decide it’s worth spending that money to increase our quality of life.
So while video gambling has brought in less than half a percent of our budget in income (enough to run the village for about 44 hours last year) what is it costing us? I believe it’s a bad deal for the village, and, in the long run, for the bar owners. It’s short-sighted. If someone comes to Forest Park with an extra $20, everyone makes more money if they spend that money on goods and services instead of gambling. It’s simple economics.
I have other reasons (the insidious nature of the machines which are designed to be addictive, the normalization of gambling for children leads to more gambling addicts, etc.), but primarily it’s about the quality of life in the village. What do we want Forest Park to look and feel like? Forest Park has fought hard to be competitive, vibrant, and contemporary, and I think gambling machines threaten all the progress that has been made, and will cost us more in the long run.
Amy Binns-Calvey is a longtime Forest Park resident.