The prospect for video gambling in Riverside appears dead, but is not quite buried yet.
On Nov. 2, the Riverside Village Board discussed the contentious issue at a meeting attended by about 30 very interested residents. A narrow majority of the board, three board members and Village President Ben Sells, are opposed to pursuing the matter any further.
But, one of those board members, Trustee Doug Pollock, was not at the meeting, forcing the board to wait until its Nov. 16 meeting to vote formally on whether to direct village staff to prepare an ordinance that would allow video gambling in Riverside. Trustees would then have an opportunity to vote on the ordinance.
Board members Joseph Ballerine and Elizabeth Peters said that at this point they did not favor requesting staff to prepare an ordinance allowing video gambling. Instead, Ballerine suggested holding a referendum on the issue in the November 2018 general election. State law only allows an advisory referendum on the issue of whether to allow video gambling, so the final decision would still reside with the village board.
“I believe we have too many important issues right now to solve and at this moment this happens not to be one of them,” Ballerine said. “We need to move on and leave this issue for another time and another forum.”
The board members who wanted to direct staff to draft an ordinance said that the issue deserved to be considered and debated as thoroughly as other issues had been.
“Without a draft of the proposed terms, I’m not comfortable making a decision about taking away an opportunity to help our business owners and to potentially create a new bucket of revenue for the village,” said Trustee Wendell Jisa.
Board member Scott Lumsden agreed, saying the opportunity to debate a draft ordinance would be consistent with the way the board has approached other controversial issues.
“This is about doing the right thing and the same thing, being consistent with the way we treated the people in town that wanted chickens, the way we treated the people in town who wanted bees, the way we treated people in town who wanted picnicking,” Lumsden said.
Tension between some trustees and Sells came out into the open at one point, with Lumsden expressing displeasure at Sells for coming out against video gambling publicly in an op-ed in the Landmark the day before the meeting.
“We know what your opinion is; this isn’t good governance,” Lumsden told Sells at one point during the meeting. “You’ve rammed it down our throat.”
Before the meeting Brian Carroll, the owner of Mollie’s Public House, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall when Sells announced his opposition to allowing video gambling, withdrew his request for the village to allow video gambling while reserving the right to do so in the future.
Carroll had approached the village board this summer about reopening the subject, which was first brought to the board in 2015 but never officially resolved.
In September the village’s Economic Development Commission voted 4 to 3 to recommend that the village not allow video gambling.
Opponents of video gambling said it just doesn’t belong in Riverside and would bring a host of problems, including reducing property values. Sells and others said that video gambling doesn’t fit with the village’s new marketing campaign that emphasizes Riverside’s uniqueness and beauty.
In an email from Pollock, which was read at the meeting, he noted that none of the other communities that Riverside compares itself to, such as LaGrange, Western Springs, Oak Park, Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills, allows video gambling.
“I believe there is a substantial negative stigma attached to video gambling, and it is a stigma that may negatively impact our economic standing in the near west suburbs,” Pollock wrote. “The villages that we compete with for new businesses, for consumers, and for new residents do not allow video gambling.”
After the board members spoke, about 15 people spoke during nearly 90 minutes of public comment. Only one resident, Eric Sundstrom, favored allowing video gambling.
“Gambling is everywhere,” Sundstrom said. “This is just some little small thing that might bring in revenue, or maybe not.”
But most at the meeting spoke out fervently against allowing video gambling.
“Being the first national historic landmark to allow video gambling is not something to be proud of,” said Aberdeen Marsh Ozga, who is also a member of the Riverside Preservation Commission and serves on the board of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society. “And if it is something that we’re talking about hiding or not something that we would want in our new brochure, it’s not the right direction for Riverside. Riverside is special.”
David Glassman said video gambling is not right for Riverside.
“I don’t want video gambling just as I wouldn’t want a pawn shop or a methadone clinic,” Glassman said.
Some opponents of video gambling were upset that the village board was even considering the issue again after it had been discussed in 2015.
Cristin Evans delivered petitions with 461 signatures opposing video gambling to the village board. She stressed the public opposition to video gambling.
“Some of you don’t seem to get it,” Evans said. “We don’t want it.”
A couple of fairly new residents of Riverside told the village board that they would not have moved to Riverside if it had allowed video gambling.
“Video gambling can lead to deteriorating aesthetics, increased safety concerns and eroding values,” said Susan Wolfe. “Video gambling comes with cheap neon, large banners to draw people in, and semi-private over-18 sections separating patrons. These images do not fit in with a pastoral setting and our small-town ambiance.”
But, people on all sides called for de-escalation of the rhetoric around the issue, saying that things have become too heated and personal.
“I want to emphasize that this is also an issue that reasonable people of good will can disagree on,” said Sells, who said that he received 64 emails opposing video gambling and only four favoring allowing it.
Trustee Michael Sedivy said the discussion was necessary and that economic development must be a priority, mentioning vacant storefronts in downtown Riverside.
“This is painful,” Sedivy said. “It’s not fun. But if we’re putting a focus on economic development, that’s helpful.”
This story has been changed to correct the number of people who signed petitions in opposition to video gambling.