Video gambling is wrong for Riverside

Opinion: Columns

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By Ben Sells

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I have listened to the discussion about whether Riverside should allow video gambling for three years and have come to two conclusions: the money arguments in favor of video gambling are a hustle by the gambling industry and the state; and video gambling would blemish the ideals of beauty and community that are Riverside's greatest strengths.

When the gambling industry says video gambling brings easy money for everybody, that everybody gets a cut, and that nobody gets hurt, I hear a hustler's promise. And the moment we say, "How much money are we talking about?" the hustler has won.

The state of Illinois, through the lottery and video gambling, has wrongly placed its mishandling of our state's finances on the backs of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens. We should not repeat that mistake at the local level. Gambling does not belong in any serious discussion about public finances. The fact is that Riverside does not need video gambling to finance our village.

Claims that gambling helps local businesses are also spurious. We know there are many businesses in municipalities that allow video gambling that refuse it and remain successful. We know gambling creates an unfair competitive environment where a business subsidized by gambling money can undercut the pricing of businesses that refuse to play the game. And we know that every dollar derived from video gambling is a dollar taken away from the local economy generally. Video gambling is a destructive business model that debases competition and hurts our business community.

The Economic Development Commission, whose singular charge is to enhance the quality of life in Riverside through a vibrant business community, has said "no" to video gambling. The Chamber of Commerce has not offered an opinion because not one single business was willing to ask it to do so. Public sentiment, at least as determined by those willing to speak out publicly, is overwhelmingly against video gambling. The strongest support for video gambling comes from the gambling industry and those they have enticed with a Siren's call for easy money.

But the real question is not about money – it is about the heart and soul of our village. If there is one word that constitutes both Riverside's legacy and its future, it is beauty. Riverside offers the greater world a special place where families can thrive in a safe environment graced by nature and nurtured by a deep sense of community. Slot machines don't belong in that place. 

Ask yourself – if video gambling is good for Riverside, then why hide it in a back room? If it is good for economic development, then why deny it to new businesses? Every proposed safeguard seeking to limit video gambling is proof that it is a bad idea for Riverside.

Riverside should not sell its soul for a hustler's promise. Subsidizing government through gambling dims the lights on our best ideals, degrades our civic values, and depreciates our legacy. It simply isn't worth it, not at any price. 

Ben Sells is Riverside village president.

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Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: November 2nd, 2017 11:23 AM

Excellent points. As a Forest Park resident, who, along with other volunteers, spent many, many hours trying to get the issue on the ballot, be very wary. We were not able to beat the system in place. The deck is stacked strongly in favor of the video gambling industry. In Forest Park, we had a non-binding referendum on VG a couple of years ago. 68% of us said "No." You would think that Village Hall would have listened to that. But for whatever reasons in the back halls of power, the Mayor and three others voted against the wishes of the citizens. Also be aware of the difficulties of getting it ON the ballot. To get most issues on the ballot as a referendum, you need to gather signatures from 8% of the registered voters on a petition. To get the issue of video gambling on the ballot, you need 25% of the voters. This is a much more difficult mark. But we made it. And then the video gambling industry sent in paid shills to gather signatures on a nonsense referendum, to knock ours off the next ballot. They know all the tricks, and have expensive lawyers, and have rigged it in their favor. So be aware that even though most of your citizens may not want VG, the industry is chipping away, looking for ways. And there are ways. Learn from Forest Park. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost in the machines since it started, and 70% of that money goes straight out of town. Don't give up the fight. And it will be a fight.

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