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Residents, biz owners debate video gaming

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                                                                             Photo by Dermot Connolly
An Orland Park resident addresses the village board during a town hall meeting held Monday

at the Orland Park Civic Center to discuss the possibility of legalizing video gaming in the village.

          At least 100 people were on hand at the Orland Park Civic Center Monday to discuss the possibility of allowing video gaming in the village.

An ordinance banning video gaming in Orland Park has been on the books since 2009, but village officials acknowledged publicly last month that they are considering lifting the ban. The village board agreed to host a series of three town hall meetings to get input from residents. Monday’s meeting was the first and the opinions shared were certainly mixed.

         

“As the new guy around here, it was suggested that I am behind this idea. But I was not the guy pushing for this,” said Mayor Keith Pekau, who was elected in April.

Instead, it was the owners of local bars and restaurants who have been asking the village board to overturn the ban, so they can better compete with businesses in neighboring communities that allow video gaming. Making up for reduced sales tax revenue coming in to the village also spurred the idea of making a change.

“In my opinion, the state should not have approved gambling. But now, we’re surrounded by it and we’re looking at it in-depth, as it should be done,” said the mayor, who was joined by five trustees on the dais at the meeting.

Pekau and other village officials have already met with local religious leaders to discuss the issue, and a draft ordinance is available for viewing in the documents section of the village website. But the mayor and the five trustees who joined him at the meeting agreed that the ordinance still needs work before they would support it.

Before opening the meeting to public comment, Village Manager Joe La Margo reviewed an economic impact study done by Crowe-Horwath on the economic effect that video gaming is likely to have on the village. The study analyzed video gaming revenue data of six nearby municipalities with comparable median per capita income, and found that video gaming could contribute an estimated $415,135 in tax revenue into the village annually.

Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy said that police departments in neighboring communities that do offer video gaming have found that it has not caused any crime in the businesses that do have the terminals.

Jim Harmening was among the residents who spoke out against allowing video gaming. “It changes the character of community,” he said, pointing to the 159th Street business districts of neighboring communities such as Tinley Park and Orland Hills as an example.

He also pointed to studies showing that “people who are addicted to gambling” generate 30-60 percent of the revenue generated by video gaming.

Harmening asserted that each problem gambler costs $8,000 to $15,000 in social costs.

Mike Halleran, whose family owns Orland Bowl, said video gaming is necessary for his business to survive.

“For all those who talk about the social issues, whether we pass it here or not, (the gamblers) are going to do it,” he said.

“I have three competitors within my industry in neighboring communities with video gaming. I feel I should be able to compete in my industry, but I can’t the way it is now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I don’t have that revenue stream (that the other bowling alleys do),” said Halleran.

“I don’t know why I should be punished. The cat’s out of the bag. It will never be unanimous. But the most important vote is the money.”

Tim McCarthy, the owner of Paddy B’s bar and restaurant, said his business located on Will-Cook Road “is being run out of town” because it cannot compete with businesses in nearby Homer Glen and elsewhere that offer gaming.

“We support what is going on with the draft ordinance. We have to have that playing field leveled,” he said, noting that he was speaking for 10 bars and restaurants in Orland Park experiencing similar problems.

“I don’t do much gambling. But all the villages that have it are making money on it. We have to create more money. The gamblers that have a problem will go somewhere else. It’s a no-brainer to have this,” said resident William Barra.

“The board has no duty to level the playing field for bars and restaurants. The board does have a duty to protect residents. Anyone who believes there is no harm in bringing in gambling has not studied the issue,” said Michelle Halm.

“You do listen to your residents. This is a family village, with great schools and parks. It is a big village with a small-town feel,” said Susan Dalton, a longtime resident and District 230 school board member opposed to allowing video gaming.

“When the original ordinance banning video gaming was passed in 2009, five of us were not on the board. Things have changed,” said Trustee Carole Ruzich. “But the draft ordinance is still a work in progress. We don’t want gambling parlors. We don’t want a Vegas look to our town. It would be restricted to Class A licenses, meaning restaurants.”

Trustee Mike Carroll noted that the village already prohibits flashing lights on signs, but cannot legally control what is written on them.

         

“If some of these restrictions currently in the draft cannot be enforced, I think it would be a problem for a lot of us,” said Ruzich.

The trustees said they expect to have more information at the remaining two town hall meetings, set for 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and Jan. 8, at the Civic Center, 14750 S. Ravinia Drive.

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