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There has never been a single instance that I can find where video gambling has been legalized because the public demanded it. In 2009, when the Illinois legislature rushed through the Video Gaming Act within 24 hours of it being introduced, a Chicago Tribune poll showed that 58% of Illinois citizens opposed video gambling being legalized. Why then did the legislation breeze though the legislature with less examination than a bill honoring motherhood, veterans or the U.S. flag? Because the people who profit the most from video gambling have lots of campaign contributions to give out. And because legislators prefer an easy reliance on gambling revenue (even if counter-balanced or negated by social costs) to the difficult choice of cutting spending and/or raising taxes.

Given the lack of public support video gambling has received, and the windfall profits involved for operators, it is no small wonder that the Video Gaming Act makes it immeasurably harder to get a video gambling ban on the ballot than any other referendum.

To ban video gambling in Cook County would take 250,000 signatures. To run for Cook County Commissioner only requires 5,000 signatures. To get the issue of video gambling on the ballot here in Forest Park actually took more signatures than were received by both mayoral candidates in our last Village election combined. This is a ridiculously–and perhaps unconstitutionally–high burden for petitioners to reach.

Yet, Forest Parkers determined to bring democracy to our little hamlet were able to meet this burden. In all honesty, they met it twice. But thanks to the inherently biased nature of the Electoral Board here (where the Electoral Board consists of the Mayor, a Council member and the Village Clerk) they were denied the ballot on questionable grounds and forced to collect the required signatures a second time. And battle the legal machinations of the pro-gambling lobby all the way up to the Illinois Supreme Court. Just to secure a vote! We are the first municipality to succeed in overcoming the obstacles set up by the gambling lobby and bring this to a vote. And I am proud of my own small role in that, and proud of all my fellow volunteers.

The proponents of video gambling in Forest Park–an unseemly alliance of bar owners and local politicians–were willing to harass and intimidate private residents, attempt to dig up dirt on them through FOIA requests, and attack their family members, all just to prevent Forest Parkers from voting. Now it’s your turn to let them know how you feel about that.

For the sake of our democracy and the good of our Village, I urge citizens to Vote Yes to reinstate the ban on video gambling.

For background on the struggle, I have compiled a complete chronology of the efforts to bring this issue to a binding vote and the obstacles strewn in the petitioners’ path. It is a mind-boggling litany of dishonesty, pettiness, questionable legal maneuvers, harassment, and attempted intimidation by the pro-gambling forces.

Here it is:

A Detailed Chronology of the Video Gambling Debate in Forest Park

March 24, 1999. Mayoral candidate Anthony Calderone opines “We’re not going to have video poker machines in Forest Park…  Video Poker machines bring problems and I don’t want to bring problems to Forest Park.”

March 27th, 2013. The Village announces the results of a mail survey included in residents’ water bills. By a 4-1 margin, Forest Parkers opposed video gambling. The final tally was 390 opposed to video gambling, 88 in favor and 22 undecideds.

“Video gaming is already illegal in Forest Park, so there is nothing for the council to do,” notes Mayor Calderone.

The Review reports that Martin Sorice and 16 other bar owners have formed an alliance called Keep Forest Park Competitive, with the aim of lobbying for video gambling.

April 9th, 2013.  In a non-binding referendum, Forest Parkers re-affirm their opposition to video gambling by a margin of 68% to 32%.

March, 2015.  Despite running with a Village Commissioner slate that unanimously supports re-evaluating video gambling as a revenue source, Mayor Calderone continues to contrast his anti-VG position with opponent Chris Harris, who supports lifting the ban. The only candidate not explicitly slated by Calderone, Dan Novak, also supports looking at video gambling as a revenue source.

According to election records, local bar owner and pro-gambling activist Martin Sorice made significant campaign contributions to both Harris and Calderone. Such contributions are required to be listed on applications for video gaming licenses.

April 1st, 2015. Former Commissioner and one-time Calderone antagonist Rory Hoskins, in a surprise announcement, gives his endorsement to Mayor Calderone citing, in part, Calderone’s stated opposition to video gambling.

Spring/Summer 2015 Public concern over likely council action on video gambling grows, with local business owners Connie Brown, Noel Eberline and Patrick Jacknow heading efforts to put a binding referendum on the ballot that would allow Forest Park voters to vote to continue the ban or not.

November 2015.  Pro-gambling activist and bar owner Martin Sorice asks that the petition effort be set aside saying he would agree to a vote next year, after people have had a chance to experience the impact of video gambling.

February 2016. Mayor Calderone admits that the issue of legalizing video gambling “is likely to come up” this year, while failing to restate his previous opposition.

July 2016. The Village of Forest Park holds a town hall on video gambling with a pre-ponderance of pro-VG speakers. The lone person recruited to represent the opposition to video gambling, Nick Ardinger, notes that he is actually neutral on the subject.

After a proposed ordinance limiting signage for VG is discussed, the Village Attorney notes that an ordinance that applied only to video gambling signs would not stand up to a constitutional challenge. The ordinance is later passed by the Village Council. This would not be the last time the advice of our Village attorney is rejected.

August/September 2016. Pro-vote activists submit nearly 3,000 signatures to the village clerk asking for a binding referendum.

On his pro-VG Facebook page, Build Forest Park, local bar owner and pro-gambling activist Martin Sorice demands that people who signed the petition be given a chance to change their minds and delete their signatures.

John Hosty files a challenge to the petitions, which is heard by the Electoral Board. The Electoral Board consists of the Mayor, the clerk Vanessa Moritz and Tom Mannix, a business partner with Mark Hosty.

After more than 1000 signatures were challenged and reviewed, the petition was found to have enough valid signatures to be on the ballot. However, an additional challenge demands that the number of required signatures be changed from 25% of “active” voters to 25% of both “active” and” inactive”, though this is contrary to established practice in every other election. The electoral board then rejected the petitions because they did not meet the new higher threshold they themselves arbitrarily set.

Lacking funds to appeal the decision, the pro-vote group is forced to re-group. Barraged by personal attacks appearing on Facebook, Patrick Jacknow severs his association with the pro-vote movement, saying the signage ordinance the Village passed resolves his objections.

November 2016. Forest Park residents Jordan Kuehn and Kris McCoy announce a new petition drive to put video gambling on the ballot.

November 2016 Out-of-town petitioners circulate petitions for six advisory questions to be placed on the next ballot. The sponsor of the questions is bar manager and pro-gambling advocate Mark Hosty. The questions include things like whether Forest Parkers want to continue to have their sidewalks shoveled. Because only three questions can appear on a ballot, and because few signatures are required for advisory referenda, the purpose was to keep the binding Video Gambling referendum off the next ballot. One of the people collecting signatures for Hosty worked for Constituent Outreach, a political consulting firm of Tom Mannix, Electoral Board member and Mark Hosty’s business partner.

November 8, 2016. According to an official police report, an Oak Park policeman who was driving by witnessed the following altercation: Mark Hosty was observed confronting a pro-vote petitioner in her late 50s by pushing his phone close to her face to take a picture; and the woman raised her hand, attempting to shield her face. Although the Oak Park policeman expressly said he witnessed no battery, Hosty directs a Forest Park policeman to cite the woman, a disabled grandmother, for battery.

On his Facebook page Build Forest Park, pro-gambling advocate and bar owner Martin Sorice crows that a “woman with a purple streak in her hair” was “arrested” for “assaulting” Hosty, though no arrest was ever made. Mark Hosty chimes in, calling the woman “an entitled nutjob”.  (When the matter comes to court, the citation is dismissed after the woman agrees to issue a perfunctory apology).

October 26th, 2017.  On Martin Sorice’s pro-VG Facebook page, Build Forest Park, Mark Hosty proposes a boycott of the animal hospital where Andrea Kuehn, the wife of pro-vote advocate Jordan Kuehn, works as a veterinarian.

December 18th, 2017. Pro-vote organization Let Forest Park Vote submits roughly 3500 signatures to the Cook County clerk, asking that a binding referendum on video gambling be placed on the March ballot.

Pro-gambling activist and bar owner Martin Sorice once again demands that petitioners give people who changed their minds the chance to delete themselves from the petition.

January, 2018. Informed by the Village that clerk Venessa Moritz is certifying Mark Hosty’s advisory referenda for the March ballot, Ed Mullen, attorney for Let Forest Park Vote sends her a letter noting that the time period for those petitions had lapsed and they could not be placed on the ballot. Vanessa certifies them for the ballot anyway. 

January 23rd, 2018. Local bar owner James Watt challenges the petitions submitted by Let Forest Park Vote, contradicting Martin Sorice’s previous statement that the bar owners only wanted a year to prove their case before agreeing to a vote.  Against the advice of the Village Attorney, the Electoral Board throws out the entire petition because 6 of 276 pages petition have the wrong heading. Let Forest Park Vote appeals to the Circuit Court.

February 21st, 2018 The Circuit Court upholds the Electoral Board’s decision. Let Forest Park Vote appeals to the Illinois Appellate Court.

March 16, 2018 In a strongly worded decision the IL Appellate Court 1st District chides the Village of Forest Park for erroneously invalidating the petitions and declares that the Forest Park citizens’ petition on video gaming is valid. Further, the Court directed the village clerk to certify the ballot question for inclusion on the November 2018 ballot. The threshold for certification is 25% of active voters, contradicting the local Electoral Board’s 2016 decision that it should be 25% of “active” and “inactive” voters.

March 27th, 2018. The Forest Park Review reports that five of pro-gambling activist Martin Sorice’s bars were denied video gaming licenses because Sorice did not disclose his political contributions on the applications.

June 6, 2018. The Illinois Supreme Court declines to hear James Watts appeal, clearing the way for a binding referendum on video gambling to appear on the November ballot.

July 31, 2018. The Electoral Board, as ordered, certifies the petitions for the November ballot.

August 11th, 2018. Commissioner Tom Mannix, in a chilling attempt at citizen intimidation on Build Forest Park, threatens to sue pro-vote advocates who accused him of a conflict of interest, reveals personal information about pro-vote advocates and their wives, including information he garnered from FOIA requests, and makes several wild accusations, improbably accusing Jordan Kuehn’s wife, a veterinarian, of being inclined to kill his dog. The posts receive almost universal condemnation, though members of the Village Council and the Mayor make no immediate comment. Neither spouse is involved in the pro-vote movement; Andrea Kuehn does not recall ever even meeting Mannix.

August 13th, 2018 In public comments at the monthly village council meeting five Forest Park residents condemn the threats, intimidation and reckless allegations of Tom Mannix, including Jordan Kuehn, Nick Ardinger and Amy Binns-Calvey whose spouses were victimized by the remarks. The Mayor blames Mannix’s remarks on the heated video gambling debate saying “it takes two to tango”. The Mayor indicates that there are no sanctions the Council can apply to Mannix’s behavior. Mannix says nothing at the meeting concerning his comments and acknowledges no wrong to the Forest Park Review, but issues a private apology to Jordan Kuehn. He did not offer an apology to Nick Ardinger, Jessica Rinks or the Binns-Calveys.

August 16th, 2018 Local bar manager and Mannix business partner Mark Hosty is revealed to have FOIA’d the work emails of Jessica Rinks, the wife of pro-vote advocate Nick Ardinger. These emails, detailing only that she invited him to march with the County Clerk in the Chicago Pride Parade found their way to Mr. Mannix who used them to falsely imply that Ms. Rinks was engaging in political activity from a government email.

Pro-vote citizens brace themselves for additional dirty tricks from the pro-gambling forces.

November 6, 2018 Forest Park finally gets a chance to vote Yes to reinstate the ban on video gambling, making them the first Illinois municipality to beat the money and clout wielded by the gambling lobby. Let’s show them we can’t be intimidated, and let’s take our town back!

This post has been updated to reflect that John Hosty filed a challenge to petitions in 2016. 

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