Government

Downers Grove council’s video gaming decision a sure bet to upset some

There’s only one sure bet when it comes to the Downers Grove Village Council’s decision on video gaming: Commissioners won’t make everyone happy.

If the council agrees to allow bars and restaurants to have gaming terminals, it’s likely to upset a large number of residents, many who voiced opposition to video gaming on social media or in email messages to village commissioners.

On the other hand, a decision to reject the proposal will upset some bar and restaurant owners, who contend that video gaming would be a welcome source of revenue, especially after the hit they took during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council is expected to vote on the matter at the Nov. 9 meeting.

Three changes made to the initial video gaming ordinance were announced at the Nov. 2 council meeting.

  • The maximum size for a gaming room was reduced from 500 to 200 square feet.
  • Video gaming terminals cannot be visible from outside a bar or restaurant.
  • Noise from video gaming terminals cannot be heard from outside the gaming room.

Commissioner Danny Glover reiterated his position in favor of video gaming at the Nov. 2 meeting. He also opposed a move to allow it except in bars and restaurants in downtown Downers Grove.

“I don’t agree with choosing where we think it belongs and where it doesn’t,” Glover said. “I think there’s a place for trendy establishments in our downtown, and I think there’s a place for casual establishments in our downtown. I think without allowing the gaming, there won’t be any casual establishments.”

Commissioner Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt echoed Glover.

“It feels a little insulting to suggest that downtown business owners are going to let their businesses get seedy or be undesirable for people who are walking down the street,” Sadowski-Fugitt said.

She added that vape shops are allowed downtown but “we’re almost clutching our pearls at a sign in a downtown” referring to some commissioners’ opposition to signage used to advertise gaming.

Commissioner Greg Hose also favors gaming as a way to support businesses.

“I have to say I’m sympathetic to our businesses here in Downers Grove, especially those restaurants that have been taking it on the chin for the past 18, 19 months,” Hose said.

“I think the idea of limiting it out of downtown, prohibiting downtown establishments from having video gaming, is a bad idea if we’re going to have video gaming throughout the village,” Hose continued.

Commissioner Chris Gilmartin also has expressed support for video gaming, but was adamant in his opposition to standalone video gaming parlors.

Phil Cullen, owner of Ballydoyle Irish Pub & Restaurant, located on Main Street, quashed the notion that video gaming attracts undesirable individuals to an establishment.

Cullen recently added video gaming to Gray’s Mill, the restaurant he own in Montgomery.

“Since we opened this in Montgomery, the people who are sitting [in the gaming] area, it’s a middle-aged housewife that is basically sitting there entertaining herself, and you don’t get the seedy characters. It’s really not a bad thing,” Cullen said.

“I think there’s a misconception that the gamers are seedy and they aren’t,” he added.

Commissioners Rich Kulovany and Nicole Walus both have voiced opposition to having video gaming in the downtown business district, especially because the signs could damage the look and feel of the area. Both commissioners also have said they don’t want to take any steps that could jeopardize the overall look and feel of the business district.

Mayor Robert Barnett, who did not attend the Nov. 2 council meeting, posted a lengthy message on Facebook that included his thoughts on the issue.

“At this point, we’ve heard mostly anecdotal commentary from interested parties who stand to benefit,” Barnett wrote in his post. “But it seems to me that the same anecdotal approach that’s gotten us to this point could be applied to recognize that we’ve had [to my knowledge] zero restaurants leave our community to seek gaming opportunities in neighboring communities over the last decade that it’s been available to them.”

“To this point, I’ve had no interest in adding video gaming to our community,” Barnett continued. “I might be inclined to consider a compromise that would minimize the exposure, minimize the in-facility footprint, minimize visibility and keep it out of the downtown if I thought there was a broader village economic development reason.”

If approved, the ordinance would allow a business to have up to six terminals if they’ve had a liquor license in good standing for one year. The proposed ordinance prohibits stand-alone gaming cafes, which have garnered no support from commissioners.

The village would charge a one-time $1,885 application fee, and businesses would pay an annual terminal fee of $1,500. The village would cap licenses at 20, and license applications would be reviewed starting Jan. 1 on a first-come, first-served basis, Village Manager Dave Fieldman said. Currently, 55 establishments would qualify to apply for a license, he said.

Individuals under age 21 would not be permitted to use the terminals, which would be located in a separate part of a bar or restaurant.

Municipalities receive 15% of tax revenue generated by video gaming. The village estimates annual revenue of between $250,000 to $500,000, Fieldman said.