Bets are still off on video gaming issue

  • Written by Dermot Connolly
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          Video gambling remains a political hot potato in Orland Park, where a decision on legalizing it has been postponed indefinitely while trustees await a legal opinion on whether their restrictive ordinance could hold up in court.

The possibility that it would be legalized with passage of an ordinance on the agenda drew a standing-room only crowd to the Orland Park Village Board meeting on Monday. A couple of other controversial issues were also discussed, but video gambling garnered the most attention. Judging by the applause from the board room and the balcony as opponents and supporters spoke, opinions were about evenly divided.

          Opponents of video gambling, such as local physical therapist Tom Mulvey, urged the board to abide by the results of two advisory referendums on the March 20 primary ballots. One was drawn up by village officials asking whether it should be legalized lost by a 51-49 percent margin. Another, which opponents got approved first, asked whether video gaming should be prohibited, although it already is. That won by a margin of 52.7 to 47.3 percent.

          However, several of the elected officials noted Monday that the advisory referendums were flawed and did not represent a mandate because of the slim margin of victory.

The proposed ordinance being considered would limit the number of video gambling licenses allowed to 20 of the 67 businesses with Class A liquor licenses, meaning restaurants with full bars. Most of them are family-owned restaurants that asked the board to legalize video gambling in order to “level the playing field” because they have to compete with businesses in neighboring municipalities that allow gaming.

Michael Lorenzo, owner of Papa Joe’s restaurant, would be one of those in line for a gaming license if it was approved.

“Are we all going to go out of business if video gaming is not legalized? No, but it is already here. It is across the street in Orland Hills, in Homer Glen and Tinley Park. That is why we want it here. To level the playing field,” he said.

“As far as revenue (for the village), this is very low-hanging fruit,” he added, referring to the $400,000 in annual revenue that video gaming is estimated to bring in to the village.

Tom Mulvey, a local physical therapist, said “I know what it is like to run a small business.” But “the people have spoken,” he added, urging the board to abide by the results of the referendums. He maintained that senior citizens are prone to gambling addictions and are targeted with the type of games available.

Trustee Michael Carroll acknowledged that video gaming is “a sharply divided issue.” But he said that “all reasonable sources of income must be explored by this board,” especially in light of “the Amazon effect” that has led to the closing of Sears, and now Carson’s and Toys R Us in Orland Square Mall.

He and others on the board asserted that the ordinance being considered is likely the strictest in Illinois. In addition to limiting signage and the number of licenses allowed, it also includes an 18-month waiting period before new businesses could get a license. This will prevent gambling cafés from opening.

“I disagree that we are ignoring the voters. Both referendums were advisory only. We also considered comments at the (three) town hall meetings, as well as the hundreds of calls and emails we have gotten from residents.”

“The referendums were flawed,” said Trustee Patricia Gira, referring to their wording and timing. “They shouldn’t have been placed on primary ballots. Many people don’t vote in primaries because they don’t want to declare for one party or another.”

She also said that she couldn’t vote for the ordinance as it stands now because while she didn’t want to see video gambling in all 67 businesses with Class A liquor licenses, it would be creating an unfair playing field locally if it was limited to a few.

Trustee Carole Ruzich said she would rather postpone voting until outside counsel renders an opinion about whether the limitations on the number of licenses could withstand a court challenge.

Trustee James Dodge agreed, and his motion to table the ordinance was approved 4-3, with Carroll, Mayor Keith Pekau and Trustee Dan Calandriello voting against it.

“I get it. It’s a challenging issue, nearly a 50-50 anywhere you slice it. But either way we have to resolve this issue,” said Pekau. “I am not philosophically opposed to video gaming as long as it is tightly controlled. I too have concerns about how we limit the establishments.”

“This was not a priority issue for me. But we did hold several public meetings and met with the clergy. None of the communities surrounding us have reported an increase in crime because of video gaming.

The mayor said he is generally opposed to referendums, describing them as “political tools used to drive emotions.”

He said that results of the ones in March “are not a mandate,” pointing out that about a 25-percent voter turnout, and a 51-49 percent margin, just 13 percent of voters cast ballots against them.

Pekau said that a Cook County referendum to legalize marijuana also passed in Orland Park, “and I don’t think you want to legalize that.” Further, he noted that the building of Orland Square Mall and the Sportsplex also went ahead despite being voted against in referendums.

In other business, the board voted 4-3 to wait until next year to plan a paid concert in Centennial Park West. Pekau had proposed having Blue Oyster Cult and another band play on June 18, but the majority decided that there would not be enough time to make it successful this year.

A proposal to return the mayoral position to part-time following the next election was also tabled until an unspecified later date.

via The Regional News

May 10, 2018 at 08:05PM


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