Asking Riverside voters to decide via referendum whether they want to see gambling in the village may seem fair, but let’s first consider the need for a referendum and its potential impact on the community.
First, without an actual request for an ordinance change that would allow video gambling, the need for a referendum becomes difficult to justify. Mollie Public House’s rescinded its request in November and certainly no resident has requested such a change. If no business is asking for it and no resident is asking for it, whose interests are being represented with this referendum? That’s unclear.
More than 500 residents have emailed, spoken, and/or signed a petition stating they are against video gambling in the village. No community response of this magnitude has been seen by a Riverside Village Board in at least the past decade.
Extending what has become a truly divisive gambling conversation between village leaders and the community could erode public trust. And it will undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of this board and its ability to move the village forward in a positive and productive way.
Gambling machine vendors have limitless resources at their disposal to influence the outcome of a referendum, regardless of community opinion. Setting up such a fight is unfair to village citizens who have already used the only weapon they have: their voices.
In addition, a non-binding referendum would be just that — non-binding on the village board. The board will be under no obligation to respond to voters, regardless of outcome. Neither is it guaranteed the results will prevent board members or businesses from making another push for video gambling in the future.
As mentioned by the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark in its Nov. 21 editorial, “Elected leaders should make call on gambling,” mid-term elections traditionally draw fewer voters. Just 13 percent of eligible Riverside voters showed up to cast their ballots in 2015. If the goal of this referendum is to reach a broader audience, it won’t happen at the polls.
A video gambling referendum also would be a costly distraction from real economic development discussions that benefit every business in town.
While governing via referendum may seem may seem like the simplest way to settle a hot-button issue, the actual value and impact of a gambling referendum in Riverside should be carefully weighed and considered.