By Nona Tepper
The lights are out, the plugs are pulled and the video gaming machines have officially been shut down in Forest Park.
After the Cook County Clerk certified the election results on Nov. 27, the state turned them off the following day, said Tim Gillian, village administrator. Fourteen bars in Forest Park had video gambling machines installed.
"The village has no control over when they were turned off, as that is all a function of the state gaming board," Gillian said in an email.
The Illinois Gaming Board did not immediately respond to an interview request. Nick Peppers, attorney with Storino, Ramello and Durkin law firm that represents the village, did not immediately respond to an interview request about the process for shutting down the machines, or bar owners' legal recourse, since many of their licenses extend until April 2019.
Bar owners paid the village a $5,000 annual liquor license fee, as well as $25 machine terminal fee.
"At this time, the village has no plans to refund any permit fees. The machines belong to a vendor, so I expect they will be removed," Gillian said in an email.
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, declined to comment. Ronald Milchhoefer Jr., co-owner of R Place, did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Martin Considine, manager of daytime operations at Circle Bowling Lanes, posted a somber comment on Facebook about the machines being turned off on Nov. 29. Considine said that when Circle Bowling upgraded its electrical system a few years ago, the bowling alley made it so video gaming machines could be installed, even going so far as to organize a vendor to eventually bring in the machines. But the late Bonnie Stutz changed her mind on the practice and decided she didn't want the machines in the alley.
"She loved the fact that they were coming into town. She just decided, 'You know what? We don't need this,'" Considine said of Stutz, who was Circle Bowling's office manager.
On Nov. 29, he said he was at Blueberry Hill for choir rehearsal, practicing for tonight's Holiday Walk and Live Window Display from 6 to 9 p.m. down Madison Street. He looked over at the bar's row of dark machines and felt sad at the strange site. Considine voted to keep video gaming legal in Forest Park.
"Usually you walk in, people are there, people are happy, people are winning and buying the whole bar rounds of drinks," Considine said. "I just got in a somber mood, it was strange to see."
Now that Forest Park will no longer collect revenue from video gaming, he said the village will need to come up with another way to raise funds. Bar owners will also need to rethink their businesses, he said.
"There's going to be some bars coming up for sale, just because they were literally living off the games for the last couple of years. That's kind of sad," Considine said. "Places that were slow were just getting by from the games. We'll see what happens in the next six months."
He said residents' continued fighting over the practice online helps no one.
"There's so much bickering on all the Forest Park websites. People are bashing, ripping people apart," he said. "It's kind of sad, it's kind of tearing up the town. It's a shame. Everybody should just get along."