Maywood Board Divided Over Welcoming Video Gambling Bistro

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Patrons at Penny’s Place, a video gambling facility in Calumet Park, in 2015. | Gary Middendorf/Daily Southtown

Friday, February 26, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

During a Feb. 24 public hearing, the Maywood Board of Trustees discussed the merits of welcoming a video gambling bistro at 611 W. Roosevelt Rd., which would be called Lacey’s Place.

The proposed venture’s co-owners, Jeffery Rehberger and Jeffrey Mick, were in attendance at the meeting to seek the board’s approval of a Class M liquor license, without which they said the business wouldn’t be feasible. Rehberger said the bistro would require patrons to purchase a minimum of two alcoholic drinks, so the bistro’s operation would be dependent on the liquor license.

At a Jan. 13 LLOC meeting, the board discussed a draft ordinance prepared by village staff that would set the maximum number of video gambling businesses with Class M liquor licenses in Maywood at three during any given time.

The draft ordinance, which will likely be amended and has yet to be approved by the board, would also prohibit the establishments from locating within 1,500 feet of each other or 100 feet from a “church, school, hospital, home for the aged or indigent persons or veterans, their spouses or children, or any military or naval station.”

The Feb. 24 hearing on the Rehberger proposal was the first forum where members of the board publicly aired their opinions on both the specific Roosevelt Road gambling bistro and on video gambling bistros, in general.

“I like the concept of the location,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon, who lauded the development’s potential to generate tax and sales revenue for the village, in addition to enhancing the local business climate.

Rehberger estimated that, based on figures from other video gaming establishments he’s opened, the Roosevelt Rd. location could generate between $30,000 and $40,000 of annual revenue for Maywood from taxes and fees.

Brandon said he’d visited a similar gaming bistro in nearby Berwyn and that it seemed a place that would attract senior citizens seeking entertainment. And Trustee Michael Rogers noted that he talked with a village official in Brookfield about a video gaming bistro in that town and the official praised the establishment.

“I’m not really seeing anything that I fear wouldn’t work on the surface,” said Rogers, adding that the high traffic volume on Roosevelt Rd., would be good location both for attracting passersby driving through Maywood and for preventing any nuisances or criminal potential, since the location would be under such heavy visual surveillance.

But other trustees were leery of welcoming what several residents who delivered public comments considered prospective hotspots for attracting loiterers and criminal activity.

“I am sick and tired of … just welcoming just anything,” said Trustee Ron Rivers. “We want to welcome good neighbors. No disparity on you guys. I’ve got to dispel this idea of anything that will take a for rent sign off this property — I’im not doing that anymore.”

“I don’t want any kind of gambling or liquor stores or taverns on Roosevelt Road,” said Trustee Melvin Lightford. “I’d like to have nice restaurants and nice businesses. It looks like we’re going downhill. I don’t want any gambling on that side of Roosevelt Road. As a matter of fact, we don’t need any gambling here at all.”

Brandon said the perception of video gamblign bistros as havens for vice didn’t jibe with what he considered the reality, adding that the village would be giving up a prime economic development opportunity if it shut the door to the establishment.

“In order for us to deal with the financial challenges of our community, we will have to bring in some businesses,” he said. “I don’t see any major issues and I haven’t heard any from our colleagues, or at least it wasn’t clear to me that they presented … I think it’s a win for the taxpayers and for the community as well.”

The debate among the village trustees was only a microcosm of a debate that’s been happening statewide since a 2012 law legalized video gambling in establishments, such as restaurants and cafes, that sell liquor.

The gambling aspect of the establishments, which are basically places where video slot machines are setup, is regulated by the Illinois Gaming Board; while liquor licenses are granted by local municipalities. As with Rehberger’s proposal, the liquor license is typically essential for the gaming operation to function as a feasible business proposition for many owners of the establishments.

In the last several years, the gaming establishments have proliferated throughout the western suburbs. According to an October 2015 Chicago Tribune report, Oakbrook Terrace had nine, and Countryside had 17, such establishments at the time.

“The state collects 30 percent of the net income from the gambling machines, but is supposed to forward 5 percent of that amount to the municipality where the gambling take place,” the Tribune noted.

And for those municipalities where video gambling had firmly taken root, the economic benefits seem to be rather substantial, according to a February 2015 Tribune article.

“What started out as a trickle as video gambling first appeared in the south and southwest suburbs a little over two years ago has turned into serious money, according to state gaming board data.

“Chicago Ridge, for instance, saw tax revenue from gambling nearly double last year, to $200,000. Matteson had revenue of $77,500 last year compared with just $2,600 in 2013, and Mokena realized more than $122,500 in tax money last year compared with about $15,600 in 2013. Oak Lawn’s tax revenue more than doubled last year, to nearly $351,500.”

As for Rehberger’s proposed Roosevelt Road location, talks between him and the Maywood Board of Trustees broke down during the Feb. 24 hearing when village officials learned that he had not followed proper protocol, bypassing the village’s community development office and submitting paperwork straight to the village clerk.

When asked to give staff’s recommendation on the Rehberger proposal, Angela Smith, the village’s business development coordinator, noted that she hadn’t met Rehberger or Mick before. She said that the village has been approached by numerous developers seeking to open video gaming bistros in Maywood, but that they’ve all channeled their requests through community development office.

The board tabled the discussion relating to Rehberger’s Roosevelt Road bistro until the next LLOC meeting on March 9. VFP

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