By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
Palos Heights residents have a decision to make.
Come November, a referendum will be on the general election ballot asking voters about whether video gambling should be allowed in the City of Palos Heights.
The referendum will be non-binding, meaning the City Council will choose to
follow the wishes of the majority of voters—or perhaps not.
The “or not” scenario is what took place Monday night in Orland Park, when the Village Board voted 4-3 to allow video gaming.
In March, by a narrow 51 to 49 percent margin, Orland Park voters chose to keep the video gaming ban in effect. That referendum, too, was non-binding. The Regional’s staff writer Dermott Connolly reports on the Orland Park proceedings elsewhere on Page 1 of today’s edition.
The contentious issue has people lined up on both sides in Palos Heights, with more voices likely to be raised in the coming months.
Barbara Pasquinelli, a 50-year resident of Palos Heights, told the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting in no uncertain terms where she stands—and where she wants her elected officials to stand.
“I urge you to just stop this in its tracks,” she told Mayor Bob Straz and the eight aldermen. She made her statement in the portion of the meeting which provides citizens the opportunity to address the Council.
Just a short time later, the Council unanimously approved a motion to adopt “a resolution providing for the submission of an advisory public question to the electors of the City of Palos Heights regarding whether to permit video gaming within the corporate limits of the City of Palos Heights, in accordance with the Video Gaming Act, 230 ILCS 40/1.”
Mayor Bob Straz had no comment after the meeting about the development in Orland Park.
But before that vote was taken, Pasquinelli named more than a dozen other suburban communities that do not allow video gaming, including Burr Ridge, Palos Park, Naperville, Hinsdale, Oak Park, Oak Brook, Barrington and Clarendon Hills, among others.
“Everyone, I think, would agree these are fine communities,” she said. “People aspire to live there for good reason. They are outstanding towns doing well without the paltry five percent that towns receive from video gambling receipts.”
The breakdown of gaming revenue disbursement is 35 percent to the owner(s) of the machines, 35 percent to the establishment in which the machines are installed, 25 percent to the state and five percent to the municipality.
But what Pasquinelli dubbed “paltry” could be looked at in a different light, said Rich Mozerka of Mr. Mo’s, 7214 W. College Drive.
“Maybe the proceeds could be used to buy another (police) squad car, or a few squad cars,” he told The Regional recently.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Mozerka said “I’m kind of surprised that it went over so easy,” referring to the Council’s approval of the resolution that will put the non-binding, advisory referendum on the November ballot.
“At least the leaders of the town are going to give us a shot, give us a chance, instead of putting their noses up in the air and walking away from us,” he said.
Mozerka was one of five local eating/drinking establishment owners who were present at Tuesday’s meeting. None chose to speak before the City Council. Four of the five owners have spoken to The Regional, each detailing the difficulty they are having retaining customers when it is so easy for those customers to travel a short distance to many nearby communities that allow gaming.
Perhaps the most visible fallout from the city’s ban on gaming was the departure last year of Nick’s The Place for Ribs, on the northwest corner of 127th Street and Harlem Avenue.
Owner Nick Andricopulos left that location of 24 years to open up in Alsip, which allows gaming. The former eatery remains vacant.
Estimating how much revenue Palos Heights might reap should video gambling be allowed is difficult to determine.
Output from the gaming machines is dependent on the number of them within a community. By state law, five machines are the maximum for a given establishment, and the establishment must serve alcohol and food.
Another factor determining the revenue a municipality will see from video gambling includes how popular the establishments are with the public; i.e., how much traffic the machines will see.
In 2017, revenue collected by Oak Lawn totaled $667,881. In Crestwood, the village took into its coffers $403,185. Mokena received $270,409; Homer Glen; $153,484 and Lemont, $168,844.
And the State of Illinois’ share from gambling activity in each town is typically far higher. The state’s share from gaming in Oak Lawn, for example, was $3.3 million, according to the Illinois Gaming Board’s Video Gaming Report for 2017.
Renewed discussion about the long-simmering video gambling topic was addressed at the June 19 City Council meeting by Ald. Michael McGrogan of Ward 4. He is the chairperson of the License, Permits & Franchises Committee. Reportedly, the owner of one of the local eating/drinking establishments attended a meeting of the committee and asked that the issue be opened again.
At that City Council meeting, five of the eight aldermen spoke publically about letting the voters have their say about the issue.
Donna Mazalin commented on The Regional’s Facebook page, ‘Hope the vote is NO! I want to move to Palos and away from all the gaming garbage we are now surrounded by. Stand-alones and inside just about every restaurant.”
Mozerka, of Mr. Mo’s, continued his thoughts about the Council’s quick adoption of the resolution.
“They’re going to give the people of Palos Heights a shot to see what they really want,” he said.