Just days before the Riverside Village Board was scheduled to discuss moving any further down the road toward a vote on whether or not to allow video gambling, the village’s president has made it known he won’t support any proposal for it.
President Ben Sells on Oct. 30 told the Landmark that video gambling was a “hustle” that creates an uneven playing field for businesses within communities and would cheapen Riverside.
“My problem with it is that it’s bad government,” said Sells in a phone interview on Oct. 30. “Illinois is the poster child for this. They can’t manage their finances, so they do it on the backs of people who can’t afford it.”
Sells echoed that statement in an op-ed he submitted to the Landmark as a follow-up to that interview. The op-ed appears in its entirety on page 23.
At their meeting on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road, the village board is scheduled to discuss whether or not they want to direct their attorney to write an ordinance to allow video gambling. The board would debate and vote on that ordinance at a later date.
But if the village board decides against taking even that step, the subject of video gambling could be declared dead this week.
Sells makes it clear in his op-ed that he has no interest in seeing the matter advance past Nov. 2.
He argues that the case that gambling revenue helps local businesses isn’t true. Instead, he says, it allows businesses subsidized by gambling revenues to “undercut” other local businesses that either choose not to offer gambling or can’t offer it. Money spent on gambling, says Sells, is money not spent on local goods and services.
“Riverside should not sell its soul for a hustler’s promise,” Sells wrote. “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.”
Video gambling in establishments that possess a liquor license has been allowed in the state of Illinois since 2009, although legal challenges held up the proliferation of the machines until 2012.
Establishments that qualify can apply to the Illinois Gaming Board to have up to five video gambling machines on the premises. However, municipalities have wide latitude to regulate how local licenses are approved, allowing towns to prevent the introduction of gambling parlors, to regulate signage and more.
Riverside’s village board last considered the topic in 2015, when a pair of business owners requested allowing video gambling, saying neighboring towns that allowed gambling held an unfair competitive advantage.
Most of the public response in 2015 was decidedly in opposition to video gambling, a view that does not appear to have changed over time. This summer, however, Brian Carroll, the owner of Mollie’s Public House in Riverside, approached the village board about reopening the subject, since the village officially did not vote on the subject in 2015.
Sells remanded the topic to the Riverside Economic Development Commission, which held a public meeting on video gambling in September. Members voted 4 to 3 against recommending a change in village law to allow video gambling.
The three commissioners who voted to recommend a change did so only after saying the village also needed to place tight controls on video gambling.
Some residents reacted angrily when the village board agreed to reopen discussion on the topic, arguing that residents had sent a clear message on the subject two years ago.
But Sells in the phone interview said it was the village board’s duty to talk about making judgments on controversial topics.
“Do you want the village president or a trustee to say, ‘We shouldn’t talk about this?'” Sells said. “The things that are the most important to talk about are controversial. That’s how you work through these things.”