Video gambling, a subject that seemed to disappear from the radar in Riverside after a contentious couple of public meetings in late 2015 and a panel discussion in early 2016, has reappeared on the screen.
At the Riverside Village Board meeting on July 20, a local business owner asked to reopen discussion about allowing video gambling in the village’s bars and restaurants, and the village is going to do just that.
At the request of Village President Ben Sells, video gambling will be an agenda item at the next meeting of the Riverside Economic Development Commission on Sept. 14, said Kristine Herbst, chairwoman of the commission.
“The EDC will put this topic on its next agenda as requested by the board in order for us to make a recommendation,” Herbst wrote in an email.
The request for a new look at video gambling came from Brian Carroll, the owner of Mollie’s Public House in downtown Riverside. Carroll was one of two business owners who in 2015 expressed interest in installing video gambling machines.
“I’d like to maybe revisit that issue and come to a vote,” Carroll said during an appearance before the village board on July 20.
Although the Economic Development Commission and Chamber of Commerce jointly hosted a panel discussion on video gambling, which featured advocates from both sides of the issue, the commission never offered an opinion on whether video gambling ought to be allowed in Riverside. The Riverside Chamber of Commerce also never took a formal position on the matter.
Sells suggested getting recommendations from both of those groups prior to the matter coming back to the village board
Carroll did not respond to several calls from the Landmark seeking more information about his decision to bring the issue forward at this time. In 2015, he said he wanted to place the machines in a room separate from the main dining room of his business, so his business could benefit from the machines and not affect the atmosphere of the pub.
“I don’t want it in my front room at all,” Carroll told trustees in October 2015.
Scott Zimmer, owner of The Chew Chew in downtown Riverside, also supported allowing video gambling back in 2015. He confronted opponents during a village board meeting in November 2015, arguing that prohibiting video gambling hurt local restaurants.
More than a dozen video gambling opponents spoke passionately against allowing it in Riverside during that same meeting and more than 200 people had signed an online petition against it.
In the wake of that 2015 meeting, the village board quietly stepped back from the issue and no more discussion followed in the wake of the March 2016 panel discussion.
Although Carroll approached the board about the subject of video gambling last month, Zimmer has not, Sells said.
In a separate interview, Sells said that he initially gave weight to the argument that allowing video gambling would allow Riverside restaurants to compete on a level field with bars and restaurants in neighboring towns where gambling is allowed.
Now, Sells said, he’d need to hear a convincing argument to favor video gambling in Riverside, citing the opening of La Barra and Sawmilly in the past year.
“[That argument] is going to be harder to make with the success of Sawmilly and La Barra,” Sells said. “I think there would have to be a pretty compelling case made to me.”
While Riverside has resisted the pull of video gambling, both Brookfield and especially North Riverside have embraced it.
Since June 2013, Brookfield village government’s share of gross gaming revenues has totaled almost $620,000, while North Riverside’s village government has netted a little more than $460,000 in that time.
But while Brookfield has held fast against gambling parlors – storefronts featuring five gambling machines and limited alcohol and food service – North Riverside has welcomed them – and their revenue.
North Riverside has four such gambling parlors – Betty’s, Anna’s, Lacey’s and Spins – and two more are in the pipeline.
Between June 2016 and May 2017, three of the top four video gambling moneymakers in North Riverside were gambling parlors, according to data compiled by the Illinois Gaming Board.
And during that 12-month period, North Riverside for the first time eclipsed Brookfield in revenue culled from video gambling receipts. And their machines outperformed Brookfield’s as well.
From June 2016 to May 2017, 53 machines in 11 establishments in North Riverside provided the village with $179,299 in revenue. During that same time period in Brookfield, 71 machines in 15 establishments resulted in $158,483 in revenue for the village.
The machines are also lucrative for the establishments. The top non-gaming parlor establishment in North Riverside, Bar-Tini Lounge on Desplaines Avenue, collected $159,432 in revenue from video gambling from June 2016 through June 2017.
The top establishment in Brookfield during that time period, Cordial Inn, collected $187,455.