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About 100 years ago, fear and alarmism ushered in Prohibition, and although that act was repealed 13 years later, lingering anxiety coupled with moral concerns prompted blue laws limiting drinking establishments and places where alcohol could be purchased. This attitude has generally been regarded as a mistake. Today, that mistake is echoed in views about video gambling. Problems, false and exaggerated, will supposedly arise from what some believe is a scourge. Let’s dispel the myths and examine the facts.

Like alcohol, gambling certainly isn’t for everybody, indeed some for any variety of reasons are staunchly opposed to the practice. Yet, it’s here to stay, as evidenced by 75% of Cook County suburbs allowing video gambling, and the trend is growing–Harwood Heights, Orland Park, and Mount Prospect have authorized video gambling in the last six months. It is a myth that Forest Park’s decision will have an impact on the “problem” gambler because there are so many nearby places to gamble.

Perhaps the foremost myth is that every cost increase or economic misfortune that happens in a village results from video gambling. Municipal financial challenges are a constant, and higher Village fees, tax hikes, and business closures have occurred long before video gambling was an issue. Those suggesting a correlation have thus far come up empty and one must wonder whether blaming video gambling for these setbacks stems from just not liking the enterprise.

Those grousing over the sustained popularity of video gambling should take heart in knowing that it offers some clear economic benefits. In fact, video gambling was specifically authorized by the state of Illinois to help small businesses and fund capital improvements. With its abundance of small entertainment businesses and demand for tax revenue, Forest Park would seem to be the template for what inspired this state measure. The state’s policies have proven fruitful. Since the first video gambling machines were installed in 2016, Village licensees realized profits of approximately $762,000 and video-gaming has generated tax revenue of $109,000 and annual fees of $5,000 for each video gaming liquor license. The total revenue for the Village since video-gaming began, including both taxes and licenses, is approximately $300,000, funds that can eliminate decisions to raise property taxes or fees. No one is claiming that video gaming is a dynamic panacea, but it does arm the Village to successfully compete with what’s offered in nearby communities.

Similar benefits have been realized statewide. Since video gaming was legalized in 2012, small businesses have realized $1.8 billion in new profits. This revenue source is vital in helping small businesses’ budget challenges in these difficult economic times where some 11,000 independent restaurants failed in 2017, including some in Forest Park. 

While River Forest and Oak Park do not allow video gaming, they have at least have come around in recognizing the mistake of Prohibition and lingering resistance to sanctioning liquor licenses. Oak Park now has many restaurants that serve alcohol and one can readily find a River Forest patron in a Forest Park bar. Perhaps down the road these two communities will realize that they’re neglecting the opportunity to generate revenue through video gambling. Times can change attitudes, especially when the benefits of doing so are illuminating.

Bridget Lane 

Forest Park resident who has worked as the economic development consultant for the village of Forest Park

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the state not longer sets aside a specific amount of video gaming revenue to fund services for those with a gambling addiction. 

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