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Fate of video gaming still undecided

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mayor, some trustees on opposite sides of hot-button issue

Trustees took up an agenda at the March 21 board meeting that once again had the topic of video gaming as part of the evening’s discussion. All of the talking was done by residents who came to the podium to voice their concerns over the possibility of video gaming, or “gambling” as it was termed more than once, coming to the village.

Two former mayors, Bob Bischoff and Harold Gilbert, spoke a few minutes apart on the topic.

Bischoff called it a crossroads much like the decision he faced back in 1991 that eventually allowed alcohol in the village. He urged trustees to consider several factors, to put limits on the number of businesses that could have video gaming machines and to protect minors.

“I take no position for or against,” Bischoff said. “We elected you to make the best decision for all our residents.”

Gilbert said rather than gaming it is gambling, and the only winner is the owner of the machines.

“Once you let it start, it will spread out of control,” Gilbert said. “I just want to encourage you to not open that door.”

Perhaps the most compelling comments came from resident Robert Van Hook who had the courage to share his own troubles with video gaming.

“I have experience with these machines,” Van Hook said. “I won $400, $500 first, then $700, but then you don’t win again. I lost 300, 400, 500 an afternoon.”

He said owners, the state and city are the ones who benefit and that most of the people who play can’t afford to.

“We don’t need them,” Van Hook said. “The village doesn’t need the money.”

And, what about people who want to play them?

“They can go to Decatur,” he said.

As recent as the Jan. 18 board meeting, not a single trustee had any interest in lifting the village’s 2012 ban on video gaming. At the time more than one trustee said that residents weren’t in favor of having video gaming in the village so the ban remained in effect.

On March 7 Jeff Ludwick spoke to the board about opening a sports-themed pub and pizza place in the former Golf USA outlet on Barnett Avenue. Ludwick’s partners in the venture include Nichole Corrington and Craig “Woody” Wilson. The name of the proposed business is The Trojan Horse Pizza, Pub and Sports.

Ludwick said the group plans to hire 15-20 people for what he called a full restaurant and bar serving pizza, sandwiches and salads, with entertainment that includes live music, karaoke and five video gaming terminals. For plans to be approved, the village’s liquor code will have to be modified.

Resident Becky Allsup asked the board to think of the children who, like her 9-year-old daughter, will be curious about the machines when they see them in the restaurant.

“This could tarnish our image here,” Allsup said. “Think of the little people.”

Resident Joe Dugger said he didn’t want video gaming here, and he had a question for the trustees who appear to be having a change of heart on the issue.

“It’s been rejected unanimously before,” Dugger said. “What’s changed?”

Ludwick apologized to all the people who came out to speak out against the issue. He said gaming was only a small part of the business. So why have gaming at all, as he was asked by Trustee Kerstin Trachtenberg at a previous meeting?

“Rent is very expensive in Forsyth,” Ludwick said. “Live entertainment is expensive, and food cost is very expensive.”

He said that kids at the restaurant with their parents won’t see the gaming machines because state law requires the area be walled off from the rest of the business.

That part of the law, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, actually reads as follows for all locations that admit individuals under the age of 21:

“A physical barrier to the gaming area, including but not limited to a short partition, gate or rope is required. No barrier shall visually obscure the entrance to the gaming area from an employee of the location who is over the age of 21.”

Controlling what businesses can have video gaming could be done by tying video gaming to the village’s liquor license process, according to a recommendation from Village Attorney Jeff Jurgens.

Trachtenberg and Trustee Bob Gruenewald have been clear in their opposition to reversing the ban, as has Mayor Marilyn Johnson who bluntly called the reversal “politics.”

Trustees Steve Hubbard and David Wendt appear to have reversed their opposition to the ban by stating that they’d like it to be reconsidered because there is now a specific proposal on the table. Trustee Larry Reed stated previously that he doesn’t see the issue as a problem if it is regulated properly.

Trustee Jim Peck has been cautious, listening and asking a question here and there.

“I am waiting to hear what legal and staff come up with as a final set of rules for gaming before I decide if it works in our community or not,” Peck said.

Ultimately no action was taken.

Resident Sue Mahoney brought along a number of studies to share with trustees. From these she cited a number of the ill effects of gambling on a community, including increases in: addiction, bankruptcy, crime, divorce, domestic violence and suicide.

Mahoney described herself as a mother of four boys who already love video games.

“My sons don’t need to be invited to the addiction of video gaming any more than they already have,” she said.

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