I wonder if anyone else has noticed an unfortunate trend of late here in Forest Park? That trend is an increase in village fees and business closures. Several establishments that once had video gambling (VG) have closed. Many folks are upset with their hefty property tax hikes. Vehicle sticker costs have increased by almost 50%. Municipal parking spot rentals have jumped by 62% from $40 to $65 each month, yet parking is not even guaranteed. If a neighbor can’t find an open spot and must park on the street, I pray they don’t end up with a parking ticket; those have increased by 100% and are now $50.
This is not some doomsday future of a “Forest Park without Video Gambling” as threatened by some pro-VG folks. This is the village we live in now and we’ve had video gambling for almost two years.
While our village council overruled their constituents and a handful of bar owners, along with a few contentious gambling proponents, worked to suppress our right to a vote, the evidence was accumulating. We see that video gambling isn’t the financial windfall that was promised. They had estimates of $250-$300K from the machines alone. The village has stated their combined video gambling revenue for fiscal year 2018 was $165,141.36. This kind of revenue will barely fund the village for a day or two, let alone make a dent in any budget deficits.
Three years of debate and we have yet to see any comprehensive plans from our village council. The Mayor vowed two years ago that VG revenue would fund police and fire pensions, economic development and infrastructure. Where is a public plan detailing how VG revenue will be applied to the village budget? When will they account for how the money thus far has been spent? Where are the proposals seeking to monitor gambling and its effects on Forest Park? Our village has failed to offer any VG policy or information. We must do our own research.
Yes, studies mention the prospect of tax revenue, but the benefits seem to end there. On average, for every dollar of revenue accumulated, three dollars are spent on social costs. Warnings regarding the impact of gambling on the local community include crime associated with an uptick in compulsive gambling, bankruptcy, decreased property values and a possible shift in nearby businesses. For instance, local, non-gambling businesses might be replaced by storefronts aligned with gambling. Do we need a wave of pawnshops and predatory lending groups lining Madison Street before we look beyond the paltry revenue the village receives? I don’t wish to play the wait-and-see game of how high are the social costs? or how low will our property values sink? while a few machine operators get rich.
I own a home in Forest Park and I want to see my community thrive. While it is unfortunate to see local establishments fail, I am excited to witness new, inventive businesses coming to Forest Park. This gives me hope for our village. When we offer our small-town charm and embrace establishments that set us apart from surrounding cities, we will continue to see Forest Park succeed and grow.
I have weighed the evidence. I know in my heart the best way to support our village is to vote Yes to prohibit video gaming in Forest Park.
Jessica Voogd is a Forest Park resident.