Voters reject video gambling proposal
By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
Palos Heights said “no” to legalized video gambling in a non-binding referendum Tuesday night.
The City Council will decide whether or not to follow the wishes of the majority.
By a margin of 56.82 percent to 43.18 percent, local residents voted no to the referendum “Shall video gaming be permitted within the corporate limits of the City of Palos Heights?”
With all votes counted, there were 3,319 votes cast against the proposal and 2,522 in favor.
Video gambling in Palos Heights is prohibited by a 1994 ordinance. Five years ago, the nine-member City Council voted on whether to allow gambling, with the majority of members voting no.
But the issue came up again this past June. Discussion was prompted at the June 19 City Council meeting by Ald. Michael McGrogan of Ward 4. He is the chairperson of the License, Permits & Franchises Committee and said one of the local restaurant owners came to a Committee meeting, “requesting that the city at least take another look (at allowing gaming).”
Not long after, the Council voted to place the non-binding referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
At Tuesday’s 7 p.m. City Council meeting, which began just as the polls closed, Mayor Bob Straz said “We’ll see how that goes. If it does pass, we’ll have to address that in the future.”
Calling upon local businesses who have been advocating for passage of the referendum, Straz said “If it does pass, based on the brochures that the proponents sent out, it looks like every one of the establishments will earn another $100,000 or so a year, and I hope they will be generous funding some of the operations and charities in our city with that extra money.
“If it doesn’t pass, life goes on and we’ll continue as we have been,” he said.
Straz is publicly opposed to legalized video gambling, as is Ald. Don Bylut of Ward 1. He voted against it five years ago and told The Regional Tuesday evening, while the vote totals were still being tabulated, that the public’s “yes” vote would have to be substantially more than the “nos” to possibly persuade him to change his mind.
“I was a pretty solid no-vote last time,” he said. “For me to personally to reconsider it, I would want to see something larger than the (near) 50/50 split you saw in Orland. It was like 51/49 and if it comes back 51/49 here, there’s really no message there. (The public) is basically telling the aldermen “Vote your conscience.”
The vote in Orland Park earlier this year was 51 percent opposed to legalized video gaming but, like Tuesday’s vote in Palos Heights, was an advisory referendum, meaning local officials could move in the direction contrary to the majority of voters.
In fact, the Orland Park Village Board did just that this past August, approving legalized video gambling with a long list of restrictions still being finalized.
The Palos Heights vote was 56.82 percent against, 43.18 percent in favor.
Despite being personally opposed, Bylut was one of at least five of eight aldermen who supported the public’s right to voice its opinion about the controversial topic.
“The last time we had this discussion I think all of us discovered our residents have very strong feelings about this, one way or another,” he said in June. “I think this is great that we’ll be able to provide this to the voters.”
Multiple bar/eatery owners who spoke to The Regional for an article in August said that because so many towns around Palos Heights have allowed video gambling in recent years, it has become very difficult to compete. Customers just go elsewhere, they said.
“This is not about the gambling dollars, this is about survival,” said George Zorbas of X’s and O’s Sports Lounge and Grill, 6405 W. 127th St. “Everywhere else is taking our business.”
Bylut said “You want to do what’s right by your businesses. You certainly want your businesses to make money.”
But, he said, the City’s share of the gambling dollars isn’t very much, relatively speaking.
“Five years ago, we had a guy selling those machines and he estimated that if every eligible business in town, the sports bars, took five machines (the most allowed by law to a single establishment), by the time it trickled down we’d get like $40,000 per year, total. And this was from a guy who’d want to give us a figure that’s as optimistic as possible.”
The net income from a given machine (minus the amount paid out) is divided between the state, the municipality, the establishment and the owner of the machine.
The state gets 25 percent, the municipality 5 percent, the establishment 35 percent and the machine owner 35 percent.
Tuesday evening at Dunkin Donuts, 12807 S. Harlem Ave., Art Lester dropped in to purchase coffee.
With the vote not yet finalized, but with opponents already in the lead as The Regional followed the results on a laptop computer, Lester said “I say no because look what it (gambling) does to people. It’s like drugs. People are addicted to that garbage. It should have never been let into Illinois.
“I see these people, they’ll blow their whole paycheck on the machines,” he said. “It’s an addiction. They’re banking on false hope, thinking they’re gonna win something. They won’t. It’s in favor of the house.”
The Palos Heights City Council will decide in coming weeks how it will proceed with the referendum vote.
In voter news from Palos Township, two referenda were on the ballot.
The first, “Shall the County of Cook reinstate the Sweetened Beverage Tax?” was rejected 87.19 percent to 12.81 percent (16,015 to 2,352).
The second, “Shall the Illinois General Assembly pass legislation expanding the Homeowners, Senior Citizen and Veterans property tax exemptions to provide greater property tax relief?” was approved 93.34 percent to 6.66 percent (17,044 to 1,216).
Yes: 17,044 (93.34percent)
No: 1,216 (6.66 percent)
Palos Township covers all or parts of Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Orland Park, Willow Springs, Worth, Bridgeview and Hickory Hills.