Talk is cheap when it comes to video gaming

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By Nona Tepper

If you haven't heard, the Forest Park Review is fact-checking every campaign flier this election season, in an effort to inform voters. Keep in touch: ntepper@wjinc.com or jill@oakpark.com.

Flier Name: "Talk Is Cheap When It Comes to Video Gaming"

Specs: 8 1/2 -by-11, glossy, two-sided

Submitted to the Forest Park Review: Oct. 15

This sheep-themed flier offers a few claims:

1)    "Naysayers said video gaming would diminish property values but property values are UP!" MISLEADING

John Lawrence, founder of the Oak Park-based Weichert Realtors Nickel Group and president of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors, credited new construction and high property taxes in neighboring towns to driving up the local sales prices. Weichert sells homes in Forest Park and other western suburbs of Chicago.

"I couldn't possibly draw any correlation to video gaming and the rise in property values. If it was a decrease I personally wouldn't be able to draw a correlation," Lawrence said. "Our near west suburbs, Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, are all desirable communities. Forest Park has invested a lot into growing the community over the last 15 or 20 years. I feel like there's a lot of good properties in Forest Park, so the trend has been positive for a few years."

The flier cites an article by Crain's Chicago Business, which states that Forest Park's average home sales price increased 10.4 percent year over year.

2)    "Critics said video gaming would bring additional crime but burglary and theft, crimes allegedly associated with video gaming, went DOWN!" The flier cites statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program. TRUE, BUT…

Incidents of theft declined to 320 in 2017, down 24 percent from 423 in 2016, according to UCR data.

In 2017, police reported 59 burglaries, down 22 percent from 74 in 2016. An offender commits a burglary when they unlawfully enter a building or vehicle with the intent of committing a crime. One of the burglaries in 2017 was related to video gaming, said Police Chief Thomas Aftanas.

Patrick J. McManus, of Forest Park, pleaded guilty to burglary of the then-Chalk bar, which has since been renamed to Murphy's Pub, after breaking in to 7414 Madison St. about 3:40 a.m. on May 23, 2017, Aftanas said. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver and possession of burglary tools. He received probation, Aftanas said.

Before video gaming was approved in Forest Park, Aftanas said he talked to police departments from some 30 municipalities to find out how the practice impacted their towns. He said he found most towns didn't have any incidents related to video gaming.

Like Forest Park, those that did have crime related to video gaming experienced burglaries to establishments, or bar machines broken into. Some also had theft of winners' jackpot tickets.

In the "Can't Stop the One-Armed Bandits: The Effects of Access to Gambling on Crime" study, three economics PHD researchers found that from September 2012 to July 2016, access to video gaming machines led to an average 6.7 percent increase in property crimes and 7.5 percent increase in violent crimes in Chicago, a municipality that does not have legalized video gambling.

"Can't Stop the One-Armed Bandits" studied how gambling in such nearby areas as Forest Park affected crime in the city. It found that the closer Chicago residents lived to a video gambling terminal, the higher the chance of crimes like sexual assault, aggravated battery, robbery, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

The study is in the process of being peer-reviewed and was produced as a joint project between the University of Illinois School of Economics and Universidad de los Andes School of Government. It was recently presented as an amicus curia brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, as justices debate the future of sports gambling.

3)    "Alarmists warned Forest Park would look like a mini Las Vegas but outdoor gaming signage and video gaming cafes are prohibited by village ordinance." TRUE, BUT…

The village ordinance specifies that only establishments that hold a local liquor license, fraternal organizations and veterans organizations that have been operating for at least a year are valid for the Class V video gaming local liquor license.

Twelve bar owners have also signed an agreement that states, "We will abide by the spirit of the ordinance that bans video gaming signs regardless of any future legal decisions."

Attorneys Nick Peppers and Thomas Bastian of Storino, Romello and Durkin, the law firm that represents the village, did not respond to interview requests about whether the ordinance would survive a First Amendment challenge.

Attorney Nishay Sanan, who specializes in First Amendment cases, said that if bar owners decided to challenge the ordinance in court, they'd have a "decent shot" of winning.

"I think if they're willing to rally the troops and go after the village, I think they'd still have a decent shot," Sanan said. "It's speech to advertise something they do. It's not deceitful, it doesn't incite riots and it's advertising something legal. I think the lawsuit would be successful."

4)    "Despite their dire predictions, video gaming has resulted in nearly $300,000 in new revenue …" MOSTLY TRUE

As of Sept. 17, the total amount the village has made from video gambling is $287,097 since October 2016, when gambling in Forest Park was legalized, 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.

In fiscal year 2019, which runs from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019, the village has so far earned $104,035 from video gambling.

In fiscal year 2018, which ran from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, the village earned $165,141 from video gaming. In fiscal year 2017, which ran from May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, the village earned $17,921 from video gaming.

5)    "…which supports public safety and public works programs without relying on higher property taxes" MISLEADING 

Property taxes cover less than 20 percent of the village's revenue, with the remaining funds coming from sales taxes, fees and grants. The village levied the full amount it can for property taxes in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the calendar years gambling has been legal in the village, said Tim Gillian, village administrator.

The village is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, which limits property tax levy increases to 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lower.

"We have no ability to tell them to raise [property taxes] or lower them," Gillian said. "That said, the county gives us a finite amount of money each year and any year that I have revenue from someplace else, then, of course, we rely on that revenue."

At a village council meeting on Dec. 18, 2017, Letitia Olmstead, village finance director, noted that half the village's property tax levy goes toward pension obligations.

The ordinance allowing video gaming is silent on how revenue the village receives from video gaming must be used. Video gambling revenue goes into the village's general operating fund, which funds "basic services," according to the 2017 auditor's report.

SENT BY: Let Forest Park Grow-Vote No, which is a ballot initiative committee established Aug. 22 with the aim of supporting licensed video gaming in Forest Park.

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, is listed as its chairperson. Let Forest Park Grow's headquarters is 545 Beloit Ave., a residential property Watts owns, according to property records.

As of its most recent filing to the Illinois State Board of Elections on Oct. 15, the group had $59,200 in funds, with the majority of contributions coming from video gaming machine companies.

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