Photo by Dermot Connolly
Former Palos Heights mayor Dean Koldenhoven spoke Monday against allowing video gaming in Orland Park. He was among approximately 80 people who attended the final town hall meeting on the controversial issue.
Supporters and opponents of legalizing video gambling in Orland Park had their say at the village board’s third and final town hall meeting on the subject, held Monday at the Civic Center.
Much of the discussion revolved around the two competing advisory referendums that will be on local ballots in the March 20 election. The village board decided last week to put the controversial issue of video gaming to a referendum vote, after a group of residents collected the signatures needed to put their own referendum on ballots.
Because the citizens referendum asks simply “should Orland Park prohibit video gaming?”—something the village already does—Mayor Keith Pekau and the five trustees present voted 5-1 to add their own, more explanatory referendum asking whether the village should approve it on a limited basis. Trustee Dan Calandriello cast the only “no” vote.
However, during the meeting, Trustee James Dodge suggested there was still a chance one of the referendums could be taken off the ballot before the election if the two sides can come to an agreement.
“We would prefer ours to stay on because it is more detailed,” he said afterward.
He and Pekau also agreed that the whole issue of a referendum could have been avoided if the board had been allowed to continue with the “deliberative process” the board had begun some months ago. They both blamed Village Clerk John Mehalek for “jumping the gun” in November, and placing the issue on a meeting agenda for discussion before the board was ready.
“We still can’t agree on an ordinance,” he pointed out.
About 80 people were at the town hall on Monday, fewer than the 100 or more who turned out for earlier meetings. This may be because their questions were answered or because they figure it will be decided by referendum. Or, as a few said, they wanted to go home and watch the Alabama Crimson Tide battle the Georgia Bulldogs for the NCAA football national championship.
Village Manager Joe LaMargo started off by reviewing the limits of the proposed ordinance under consideration by the board. Still being tweaked, the ordinance would limit gaming licenses to Class A liquor license-holders, either full-service restaurants or bars with full kitchens. This is aimed at preventing video-gaming cafes from opening in town.
Owners of small bars and restaurants are the ones who first came to the village officials asking for gaming to be allowed, which they say is necessary to be competitive with similar businesses in neighboring towns that allow video gambling.
The number of gaming licenses would be limited to 25 for the first 90 days, with others being considered on a case-by-case basis. Businesses must also comply with existing rules regarding signage; no flashing lights will be allowed. Noise and lights will also not be allowed in the video gaming areas, which will be closely monitored, according to village officials.
Jim Harmening, one of the leaders of the anti-gambling movement in Orland Park, said he felt having two referenda on ballots “is going to be very confusing. It’s going to be tough educating the public.
“I am disappointed in the board for approving a second ordinance,” he said. “I think the board is going to have a lot of lawsuits, costing all the money you will get, if you’re going to have all these limitations.”
Mayor Pekau challenged him on that, saying, “We have done a lot of research to make sure all of these will stand up in court.”
“For those of us who voted in favor of the referendum, it was not an attempt to confuse voters. Anyone who can read will be able to make sense of them,” said Trustee Carole Ruzich
Resident Patrick Clifton said he signed a petition to get the citizens referendum on ballots, “but I feel like I was duped. I am an independent business supporter. I am a full supporter of gaming.”
Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy had said at earlier town hall meetings that neighboring communities have not reported any increase in crime associated with video gambling. But a few people on Monday cited statistics they say prove otherwise.
Former Palos Heights mayor Dean Koldenhoven argued that people addicted to gambling have been known to commit horrendous crimes to support their habits. He cited one 1990s case in which a Hickory Hills woman allegedly killed her seven-week-old baby in order to collect $200,000 in insurance money to use for gambling.
“This is so important to us. It is not about gambling. This is about the life and existence of small businesses,” said Tim McCarthy, owner of Paddy B’s, a pub and restaurant at the corner of 143rd Street and Will-Cook Road.
A study found that video gaming could raise in excess of $400,000 annually for the village, which will collect five percent of profits. But businesses will receive about 35 percent of the gaming money spent on their premises.
“I’m 100 feet from Homer Glen,” where video gaming is allowed, said McCarthy, who said businesses like his cannot compete with those nearby who are allowed to have video gaming.
“Tragedies involving vices happen all over the state. It’s a fact of life,” he said, arguing that it should not be used as an excuse to prohibit video gambling.
At one point he turned to Kathy Gilroy, a vocal opponent of video gaming from Villa Park who had already spoken at the meeting.
“I am surprised to see you here,” he said with a smile, “after your $25,000 win in a gaming parlor raffle.”
Gilroy denied his claims of hypocrisy, asserting that she did not spend anything to win, but had only put her name in a proverbial hat for a drawing. “The definition of gambling is playing games of chance for money,” she said.
Trustee Patricia Gira said she is not a fan of video gaming. “The state should never have allowed it, but here we are,” she said, asserting that village officials who want to support local business are in a difficult position
“I think the only thing this referendum does (if approved), is it allows our residents who choose to gamble to stay closer to home to do it,” she said.