Residents vote video gambling out of town

More than twice as many turned out compared to the last mayoral election

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By Nona Tepper

After two years of debate, video gambling has officially been outlawed in Forest Park by the slimmest of margins. With all 11 precincts reporting – the final precinct's totals did not come in until after 1 a.m. on Nov. 7 – opponents of video gambling had defeated supporters by just 192 votes.

Vote totals will change slightly as mail and provisional ballots are tabulated in the coming days.

The decision makes history. Nearly 6,000 people voted on the binding referendum question, more than twice the number of residents who voted in the Forest Park's last mayoral race and likely a village record.

Forest Park is also the first municipality in the state to hold a public vote to outlaw gambling after machines had been installed in local establishments, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.

Voters' decision went against endorsements by the local firefighters and police unions, public works employees and the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce. Fourteen establishments in town have installed video gaming machines.

"From the very beginning our goal was to bring this to a vote, so the fact that we got this to a ballot was an extreme relief to everyone in our group," said Jordan Kuehn, chairman of Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a ballot initiative committee that fought for the right to place the question on the ballot. "Seeing that referendum on the ballot and being able to punch yes and no was awesome."

He called the work to get a vote on video gaming a "David and Goliath effort," comparing the amount of money each side had to spend in the final weeks for the campaign.

During the third quarter of 2018, Let Forest Park Vote collected $2,739, with most donations appearing to come from residents, according to its most recent filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections on Sept. 30.

Let Forest Park Grow-Vote No, meanwhile, collected $66,200 since Aug. 22, with most of the funds coming from video gambling machine vendors, according to reports listed on the state Board of Elections. Let Forest Park Grow supported keeping video gaming in town.

"A lot of people were upset about the way it was brought in, they felt that their voice was being stifled. I think that there was a lot of resentment there," Kuehn said.

The Forest Park Village Council voted to legalize video gambling in October 2016, after a majority of residents had voted against the practice in a non-binding referendum and in a water bill poll.

Kuehn said the outcome speaks to voter feelings about the village beyond video gambling, and will have an impact on the April 2019 mayoral and commissioner elections.

He is managing a slate of four commissioner candidates — Jon Kubricht, Julianne Bonwit, Jessica Voogd, Mark Boroughf — who aim to back the election of Rory Hoskins as mayor.  

"Some of the upcoming candidates are running on a platform of more transparent, responsive government, one that responds to citizens and constituents of town," Kuehn said. "That's not to say that day-to-day functions of the village are doing anything wrong. It's to say that the leadership is not really responding to the citizens." 

As for how the town should move beyond the divisive issue, Kuehn said, "I hope that we can let it to rest. I can guarantee for a fact that the group of people that we have aren't going to petty and gloat about having won by 200 votes or anything.

"All of us are motivated to make Forest Park a good place to raise our families and to live in, and so none of us, nobody wants a divided town."

James Watts, chairman of Let Forest Park Grow, and the bar owner who brought the local battle over video gaming to the state Supreme Court, declined to comment on the results.

Martin Sorice, who owns several local bars with his wife, Lynn, donated $2,000 to the Let Forest Park Grow campaign. He posted a message to supporters on Facebook at about 9 p.m. on Nov. 6

"Lynn and I would like to thank everyone who helped us regardless of the outcome," Sorice wrote. "We love you."

The Sorices own several local taverns, including Blueberry Hill, Angelo O'Leary's, Carole's, Circle Inn, Doc Ryan's Bar & Grill, Pioneer Tap and Shortstop Lounge.

As a line snaked outside the polling place entrance at the Howard Mohr Community Center about 6 p.m. on Nov. 6, residents said they felt passionate about the issue of video gambling.  

Mayra Aguilar, 53, a customer service representative, said that while she enjoys going to casinos, she voted to prohibit video gaming in Forest Park because she doesn't want gambling in local bars or restaurants. 

"Video gaming, I think it is best kept in casinos. I believe it causes an increase in crime rate, people watching to see if you won," she said.

Resident Andris Sprudzs, 37, a middle school teacher in southeast suburban Lansing, said he has family who lives in Las Vegas. When he visits the city—and just not its strip of hotels and casinos—he said it feels clean and well-kept.

He said he voted in favor of gambling because he feels the village has controlled it with its limit on signage.

"I voted no because, whether it contributes a small amount or large amount to the village, it still contributes," he said.

Caitlin Lutz, 25, a project manager, likewise named the village budget as her biggest concern. Lutz was joined at the polls by her mother, and said voting together is a tradition among the two of them. 

"I just want to see our community do well," Lutz said. "So I believe if [video gambling] helps to keep our favorite establishments open, then I support it."


Reader Comments

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 12th, 2018 7:00 PM

Because I know and care about numerous people in the village, Pam. And because I respect what they accomplished in the face of such sleazy, dishonest tactics. So y'all who don't like me posting here can "give it a rest," because I'm not going to stop.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: November 12th, 2018 11:20 AM

This is for Timothy, the insulted. I got my information about seniors being confused by the ballot from a woman in our village who works closely with the seniors in town. They are the ones that told her. I never said they were feeble minded. I would never say that to a senior (of which I am one). No need to call me names. I have never called you names. But you continue on your holier than thou routine. As for Bill, just give it a rest for a while. You left this village; why are you so into what we are doing here?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 11th, 2018 1:30 PM

Anyone who is confused by the straightforward question "Shall video gaming be prohibited in Forest Park?" should consider not leaving their house. Just wondering, if someone asks you "Shall we go to lunch?" do you not know how to answer?

Ronald Milchhoefer  

Posted: November 10th, 2018 8:14 PM

I agree with Amy, the wording was confusing.

John Gorny  

Posted: November 9th, 2018 10:11 AM

Personally, I don't care if there is or is not video gaming in Forest Park. At one time, I would have voted in favor of gambling. The biggest reason I voted in favor of a ban is because I didn't like the tactics which were employed by the pro gambling faction. Trying to prevent people from having the opportunity to vote on this issue was, in my opinion, just plain wrong. I saw the actions taken by our political leaders as being representative of government by an "old boy" network that appeared to favor a small number of people who had money over the average citizen. As if Forest Park is still a shot and a beer bar town. Their change in tactics happened too late. Secondly, video gaming could not deliver as advertised. We had video gambling revenue. It was not enough to close the deficit or lower taxes. The votes have been cast. It's time to find different solutions to generate revenue. No easy task.

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: November 9th, 2018 7:02 AM

I also know folks (not necessarily seniors) who thought otherwise - that voting no meant getting rid of the machines. The wording on the ballot was purposefully confusing, dictated by the state and the gambling interests. I think it's very telling that the gambling interests want to confuse people - to trick them. I also think people are tired of these political tricks. They are tired of being misled by tactics that are "politics as usual." We've already seen a horrible example - a mailer meant to confuse residents for the next election. I hope the Review continues their fact-checking column. If candidates or proponents of an issue just make a case for their side and stop with these tricks - we all win.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 11:19 PM

Timothy, she's not that young, she is retired. I really believed all this garbage would go away, I must have had a senior moment.

Timothy Hinsdale  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 10:49 PM

By the way Pam, I'm a senior citizen and my fellow members of the Forest Park Senior Center understood the referendum very clearly. You think we're feeble minded. I've got news for you. You're feeble minded. You have insulted us. Shame on you. You're an ignorant whippersnapper.

Timothy Hinsdale  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 10:40 PM

Pam Fontana denigrates senior citizens by saying they didn't understand the language of the referendum. The language is explicit and easy to understand. Her comment is an insult to our senior citizens.

Ronald Milchhoefer  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 6:05 PM

Bill Dwyer telling me to speak more respectfully to others, classic!!

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 4:31 PM

Welcome to America, Ron. Maybe if you and others had tried to speak respectfully to those who were concerned about VG, instead of worrying about who still lived in FoPa, you'd have convinced the 103 people you needed to swing to still have it. I know I was still going to vote to allow it 6 months ago. Can't say I'm sorry now that I didn't get the chance.

Ronald Milchhoefer  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 3:50 PM

No skin in the game Bill with another comment.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 2:12 PM

Guess I was wrong, any way I am a senior and I understood it. Maybe it's time these supposed people stop voting if they don't know what they are voting for. I mean prohibit kind of covers it.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 12:45 PM

Pam... at the risk of sounding argumentative- and even I am getting tired of the rancor- please, tell me just WHAT is confusing about the question ""Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park?" All anyone who did not think it should be prohibited needed to do was vote "no." With respect- how would you have worded the question?

Pam Fontana  

Posted: November 8th, 2018 12:25 PM

What is a dirty rotten shame is that I think some of our senior citizens, that were enjoying gaming in their own village, thought they were voting to keep it by voting yes. Makes me sad but this was told to me by someone that works with seniors all the time. They truly thought it was vote yes to keep it. I don't care what the ballot said; it's confusing. I realize the state writes it as well. I am just saying.

Jerry Webster  

Posted: November 7th, 2018 2:27 PM

Well, we were a first, I don't believe there will be any hard feelings.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 7th, 2018 1:36 PM

This story (from the Trip, not FPR) has been picked up by the Associated Press and mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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