Government

Commissioners lay cards on the table during video gaming debate

Council votes 5-2 to delay decision on proposal until more information gathered

The debate over binging video gaming to Downers Grove continued at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting as some commissioners made passionate arguments both for and against the proposal.

Commissioners ultimately voted 5-2 to delay a vote on topic, hoping to gather more information from businesses and residents as well as the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corp., whose board is opposed to gaming in the downtown district.

Commissioners Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt and Danny Glover opposed delaying the vote.

Glover, the owner of Skuddlebutts Pizza & Catering and a proponent of video gaming throughout the village, said he has no plans to implement gaming terminals but understands its importance for others in his industry.

“I can, however, relate to the businesses seeking it and provide a perspective that my colleagues cannot,” Glover said.

Glover added that although the vast majority of emails and calls commissioners received are from residents opposed to gaming, those who favor it “are not as emotionally driven to write in or speak at village hall because they are already going to establishments to use these machines.”

Glover also his expressed his opposition to another argument against bringing gaming to town.

“The notion that establishments that want gaming can and have decided not to move to neighboring towns is with all due respect an insult to me and those businesses after years of sacrifice and investment and hard work they (have done) to plants roots in this town.”

Finally, Glover said he’s uncomfortable with the video gaming opponents implying that neighboring towns that allow gaming are trashy or held to lower moral standards.

“I would also say that Westmont, for instance, has done a pretty decent job in the way of economic development luring Amazon Fresh, Mariano’s, numerous luxury developments and restaurants to the downtown. I sure wish some of those developments would have made their way to 75th and Main (streets).”

Currently, many of stores in the mall at 75th and Main streets in Downers Grove are vacant.

Commissioner Leslie Sadowski-Fugitt agreed with Glover.

“I am a little bit concerned with the rhetoric that has been thrown around with regard to video gaming,” Sadowski-Fugitt said. “There’s almost this implicit implication that those who enjoy this form of entertainment are lower class as Commissioner Glover referred to.”

She said she favors a compromise that includes prohibiting gaming in downtown businesses, a position Commissioner Chris Gilmartin also favors.

“I have yet to meet anybody who supports it downtown,” Gilmartin said.

But Commissioner Rich Kulovany, who has been vocal in his about his opposition to video gaming since the start of the council’s debate, explained in detail why it’s not appropriate for Downers Grove even though many neighboring communities offer it.

“When all is said is done, I, frankly, don’t aspire to be like Westmont, and I’m not ashamed of that, and you can call me prideful or a snob, but anyone who knows me and what I do for living and what I’ve done in my life will tell me that I’m very far from that,” Kulovany said. “Should I be proud of Downers Grove? Yes. Should I aspire for Downers Grove to be better? Yes. That’s my job. That’s what you elected me to do. You did not elect me to become just like Westmont or Woodridge or Darien.”

Mayor Bob Barnett, who did not attend the meeting in person, but commented via conference call, pointed out the significant amount of work and money spent over the years to improve the aesthetics of the community.

“Gaming tends to work in the opposite direction of all that work we’ve done,” said Barnett, who is opposed to gaming.

Commissioner Greg Hose, who previously voiced support for gaming, including downtown, said resident feedback caused him to reconsider his position.

“Im not necessarily saying ‘no.’” I’m kind of saying, ‘not at this moment.’ I want to to do more listening. I want to see if there’s more data we can get.”

Bryan Bentley, owner of Bryan’s American Grille, urged the council to avoid emotional arguments as they consider video gaming.

“It is time to stop citing personal opinion as fact, personal perception as reality, personal beliefs as data and stroking fears as reasons for not moving forward with approving video gaming,” Bentley said.

“Video gaming does not destroy the wholesome image of communities, it does not attract transients, unless, of course, that’s what u call your family, friends and neighbors these days,” he added.

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.