Sweepstakes machines are officially no longer allowed in Forest Park, after a 3-2 vote at the Forest Park Village Council meeting on Dec. 16.
Although video gambling machines were officially banned in town by resident vote on Nov. 6, 2018, sweepstakes machines, which were not covered under this ban or regulated in any consistent fashion, started appearing in bars and gas stations around Forest Park, such as the Citgo gas station at 7323 Randolph St., the BP on Harlem Avenue, R Place on Harlem Avenue, the Beacon Pub, and Healy’s. There may be more, but since there is no way to track these machines, it’s difficult to know where they are located or how many there are.
At the council meeting, commissioners Joe Byrnes and Jessica Voogd spoke up against the machines.
Byrnes said that, in order to get a better understanding of how the machines worked, he went to two different locations in town to play them.
At one location, he was able to redeem his winnings in cash. At the other, he met a man who said he regularly played and found it to be a “lucrative” activity.
“These machines are gambling machines, make no mistake about it,” said Byrnes.
He also expressed concern that there are no age restrictions on the machines, at least none that appear to be enforced, and the machine owners might not be paying a village amusement tax on them. “The owners of the machines are not coming in here and registering them with the village,” Byrnes said.
He also stated that gambling machines, which required a $5,000 license and were previously allowed only in establishments that held a liquor license, were monitored and regulated by the state.
“Once the referendum [banning video gaming machines] passed, gambling machines went away,” said Byrnes. “Obviously somebody had to put other machines in there to make money, and they said these give away prizes, but they also give away money. I think they’re illegal.”
Commissioner Nero countered, stating that perhaps the village could put some energy into licensing or regulating them, but that the sweepstakes machines “certainly are not illegal.”
“I beg to differ,” said Byrnes in response. “They’re illegal in Forest Park because of the referendum.”
Commissioner Jessica Voogd agreed with Byrnes.
“The Illinois Gaming Board does deem these sweepstakes machines illegal,” said Voogd. “They are in violation of Section 35 of the Video Gaming Act, which provides that it is a felony to own or operate these devices.” She went on to say that promoters of the games are attempting to exploit a loophole, which, she stated, state Representative Tim Butler is trying to close through legislation.
“These machines are unregulated and put consumers at risk,” said Voogd. “They do not appear to be regulated by any public agency. There is no requirement for a criminal background check for operators and distributors. They do not generate tax revenue, and they do not meet requirements for guaranteed chances for players to win.
“I feel it’s my duty as commissioner to do what’s best for Forest Park, follow the law, and honor the will of the people. These machines are no different from those Forest Park voted to ban.”
Forest Park resident Jim Collis addressed the council during public comment during the meeting, telling them he didn’t think the sweepstakes machines should be banned. “How are sweepstakes machines hurting anyone?” he asked.
After the meeting, he had further comments, stating that when he walks up and down Madison Street, he sees fewer customers in bars than he used to. His concern is that getting rid of video gaming took away income from bar owners, and banning sweepstakes machines will do the same.
“Some of the taverns and gas stations have put in these sweepstakes machines as another way of making income,” said Collis in an email. “Now the village board has taken this too away.”
Commissioners Novak and Nero voted against the proposed ban of sweepstakes machines in town, but the ordinance to prohibit the use of the machines passed.
After the meeting, Novak expressed his desire to see Forest Park move forward.
“Any and all forms of state legalized gaming and entertainment are no more in Forest Park, and it is time to move on to other topics for the betterment of the village as a whole,” said Novak.