By Laura Bollin
Oak Lawn trustees last week voted to adopt an ordinance that allows video gambling at bars, restaurants and some other establishments in the village.
Trustees On July 10 voted 5-0 in favor of allowing video gambling. Trustee Tom Phelan abstained from the vote, citing the fact his brother recently opened a bar in town.
Under the state’s Video Gaming Act, liquor-serving establishments as well as the Johnson Phelps VFW Post 5220 and other fraternal organizations will each — if licensed — be allowed to operate up to five video gambling machines.
Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen does not think video gambling will have a significant financial impact on the village, he said. Gambling machines will be licensed by the state, which will take 25 percent of each machine’s net profits. A municipality that permits gambling will receive 5 percent of the net profits from each machine in town, while the business in which the machine is located will garner 35 percent.
“I never looked at this issue from a financial perspective for the village,” Deetjen said. “This was a decision they feel is appropriate. For us to compete with other communities, we have to have this in place. I didn’t look at this as a revenue enhancer.”
Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak said businesses reached out to him in order to get the ordinance passed in Oak Lawn.
“Businessmen reached out to me and told me they needed this to be competitive and maintain their businesses,” Olejniczak said. “If all of the other suburbs have the ability to have [gambling machines] and they are surrounding us, and a business doesn’t have them, which takes business away from owners here. We need to support our businesses, especially in these economic times.
“I don’t know if it is going to be a huge revenue generator, but it will keep people in Oak Lawn businesses, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.”
Trustee Cynthia Trautsch said she thinks the idea of gambling is unethical, but believes it will help businesses in the village.
“Ethically, we shouldn’t allow gambling in Oak Lawn,” Trautsch said. “We have boats for gambling, and sometimes there are people who don’t understand that they can only gamble a certain amount. For some people, it is a vice.
“I was caught between a rock and a hard stone,” she continued. “If all the villages around you are allowing it, it could drive out your businesses here. You have to allow them to compete fairly with other businesses. I don’t want to tell businesses they can’t make a decent living.”
Trustee Bob Streit said most liquor-serving establishments in Oak Lawn have operated illicit video gambling operations for years. Some people were concerned there was “inappropriate activity” surrounding the machines and believed they were controlled by organized crime, Streit added.
“It has been unlicensed and untaxed,” Streit said. “Now that is it is legal, it will be regulated, licensed and taxed.
“I think it is better for everybody. “People said many machines were operated by [criminal syndicates]. They would locate the machines and collect the revenue. That was one of the arguments against the machines. All of those machines will now be regulated by the state, so it should take out that element completely. “
Mayor Dave Heilmann is understanding of the Village Board’s decision, but admitted he is not a supporter of video gambling in Oak Lawn.
“While I respect very much the situation that business owners are in, I’m not wild about this,” Heilmann said. “I do believe that it is accurate that it may be going on anyhow, and other cities have approved it, but I don’t see how having a few video gambling machines will have a financial impact on the village.”
The Illinois Video Gaming Act states machines must be placed in age-restricted areas so that only patrons 21 years and older can play. Gamblers can wager as little as 5 cents or as much as $2 per play on games including poker, line-up and Blackjack. Machines will accept cash only, and players will receive a voucher ticket with which they can claim their winnings. The maximum amount a player can win per hand is $500.