By Bob Uphues
By a 4 to 3 margin, members of the Riverside Economic Development Commission on Sept. 14 voted to recommend keeping the village's prohibition on video gambling in bars and restaurants, with a majority determining it ran counter to the village's identity.
The recommendation doesn't necessarily mean the subject of video gambling is dead in Riverside. The commission's decision came after a request by Village President Ben Sells to debate the issue and come up with a recommendation. Sells has also asked the village's Chamber of Commerce for input.
After the vote, Village Trustee Elizabeth Peters, who is the village board's liaison to the Economic Development Commission, said she believed the subject would eventually make its way back to elected officials for discussion.
"I think the board will look at this regardless [of the recommendation]," Peters said.
The subject of video gambling is not on the village board's agenda for their meeting on Sept. 21.
The last time village officials broached the subject of video gambling was back in 2015, after a pair of business owners asked for the village's prohibition to be lifted.
The idea ran into stiff resistance from residents and the issue faded from view after a town hall forum on the subject in early 2016.
Brian Carroll of Mollie's Public House, who previously had asked for the gambling ban to be lifted, asked the village board in July to again consider allowing video gambling machines.
Carroll told economic development commissioners on Sept. 14 that his business, which has been in the midst of a sewer improvement project for the better part of two years, was "struggling."
He said income from the gambling machines would allow him to invest in improvements to his business, to be able to bring live music back and purchase health insurance for his family.
"It's a source of revenue that would help," Carroll said.
Some commissioners were sympathetic to Carroll and what they saw as their responsibility to try to find ways to assist new and existing businesses. Commissioners Wendy Jisa-Dockter, Alex Gallegos and Brian Plain voted in favor of recommending video gambling as long as the village placed tight controls on the practice.
Some municipalities, for example, limit the number of video gambling licenses, tie gambling to more expensive liquor licenses, restrict signage and set rules for placement of locations for machines inside businesses.
Gallegos, a new commissioner who is also an active member of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, suggested that video gambling be allowed for a three-year probationary period.
But the commissioners who voted against recommending video gambling – Chairwoman Kristine Herbst, Jack Buoscio, Kate Coffey and Keith Plummer – didn't think gaming fit the brand Riverside is attempting to build.
"If we create the right identity we'll gain the businesses we want," Plummer said. "The longer term view is really to identify if this is really what our identity is, and I just don't think it is."
About a dozen Riverside residents turned out for the meeting, but just a handful aired their views publicly. Nick Lambros, who ran for a seat on the District 96 school board last spring, opposed the machines and urged a referendum on the matter.
"It shouldn't be left up to seven people [on the Riverside Village Board] to make the decision for all of us," said Lambros.
Riverside resident and businessman Eric Sundstrom waved off an argument about how video gambling runs counter to Riverside's historic past, saying that gambling was allowed in early Riverside and that village even had "a house of ill-repute" during the early days.
"It's not going to destroy the town," Sundstrom said. "That's a crock."
In addition to those who spoke at the meeting, 25 others sent Herbst letters regarding the subject. All of the letters opposed allowing the machines, Herbst said.