More than 100 people gathered on Sept. 18 at McGaffer’s Saloon for pizza, beer and short speeches on why residents should support video gaming in Forest Park. The event, titled, “Why Should You Vote No,” was held by the Let Forest Park Grow – Vote No ballot initiative committee, which had $35,200 in its bank account as of Aug. 22, according to a filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The some eight bar owners in attendance — including representation from Doc Ryan’s, Duffy’s Tavern, R Place and others — offered attendees the opportunity to sign up to mail postcards to neighbors, knock on doors or receive a free pro-gaming yard sign to plant on their lawn.
“What we’d like to do tonight is get past some of the negativity and arguing that’s taken place and have a fact-finding mission, and see the real effect that gambling has had on our village,” said James Watts, owner of O’Sullivan’s Public House and the bar owner who brought the local battle over video gaming to the state Supreme Court. Watts is also the chairman of Let Forest Park Grow.
On Nov. 6, residents will vote on “Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?” which means you vote Yes if you’re against and No if you’re for video gambling. It is a binding referendum, which means that if a majority of Forest Parkers were to vote in favor of prohibiting video gaming, which is currently allowed, it will be outlawed in the village.
Since the Forest Park Village Council legalized local gaming in October 2016, Watts told attendees, there has been no increase in crime, no impact to home values and no signs advertising the games on Madison Street. He said revenue from the games helps plug the $1.9 million budget shortfall the village faces this fiscal year. The village has budgeted $19,673,215 in revenue for fiscal year 2019; expenses are $21,575,469.
Watts also said video gaming helps bar owners compete with businesses in nearby North Riverside, Berwyn and Brookfield, all areas which currently have gaming.
“If you vote Yes, you need to explain to me how the village is going to come up $170,000 to fill that hole,” he said.
In fiscal year 2018, which ran from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, the village earned $165,141 total from video gaming, according to data provided by the village of Forest Park, which includes all license fees, permits, and the village’s share of the terminal income.
“That pays for a fireman, that pays for a policeman, it pays for the snow shoveling that we get free on all the sidewalks,” he said.
In response to an audience member who asked why he thought people didn’t like video gaming, Watts said he wasn’t sure, but believed that local residents against the practice were part of “a group of people in the country here that are opposed to gaming, they’re opposed to gambling, they don’t like gambling. It’s totally a choice of a person who wants to gamble or not gamble.”
That ended the public question-and-answer portion of the evening, with Watts saying bar owners would then answer individual questions one-on-one.
In a separate interview with the Forest Park Review, a group of bar owners talked about video gaming’s impact on village finances, businesses, and town aesthetics.
“We’re committed not to do it anyway” Terry Healy, owner of Healy’s Westside, said of adding signs advertising video gaming to local bars.
Scott Burns, owner of the Beacon Pub, said money earned from video gaming has allowed bar owners to reinvest in their business and community, such as donating to Ribfest or supporting renovation of the Howard Mohr Community Center’s kitchen.
“It’s not a vote [against] voter suppression because there is a vote in November, Burns said, referring to several attempts to keep the referendum off the ballot. “It’s a vote that’s based on two years of history, where people can make up their own minds on the ill effects,” Burns said. “Did all our fears come to fruition or not? I think a lot of people [who] voted [in a non-binding referendum that opposed video gaming several years ago] were apprehensive because they didn’t know what was going to happen. Well, nothing has happened.”
Christopher Fleming, owner of Slainte Irish Pub, called the idea of voter suppression “ridiculous.”
“A vote is a vote,” he said.