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It’s an argument that has gone on for 10 years and has invoked the names of Al Capone and Norman Rockwell as well as the film “The Last of the Mohicans.”
It’s an issue that residents and business owners are passionate about.
Video gaming in Palos Heights.
Many residents do not want it. Many restaurants and bar owners are clamoring for it.
Over the years, surrounding communities have put the machines in. That caused Ald. Jerry McGovern to say in a February City Council meeting that Palos Heights was “a deserted island out there. We’re the last of the Mohicans.”
The city may stay on that island.
McGovern reintroduced bringing the games to town in December 2020 to help out the restaurant and bar owners who lost money due to the pandemic.
He spent a majority of 2021 researching the pros and cons of having gaming and the city’s License Permits and Franchise Committee held a special meeting March 7 to measure the mood of residents.
More than 80 people showed up at the Palos Heights Recreation Center. Although 12 of the residents who spoke at the meeting were against and six were for gaming, each speaker received hearty applause.
Committee Chairman Brent Lewandowski said the committee will continue to discuss the issue and said it may go before the council for a vote, or nothing may come of it.
Meetings leading up to that vote were heated with residents voicing their displeasure. At the time, the City Hall council chambers had Norman Rockwell replicas on the walls and one women suggested the pictures be taken down and replaced with photos of Las Vegas shows.
The common complaints from residents were the machines cause gambling addictions, would be bad for the image of the city and bring criminal elements to the community.
The village of Worth, right across the Cal-Sag Channel, already offered gaming at the time. Throughout the years Alsip, Palos Hills, Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Hickory Hills, Tinley Park and Crestwood allowed the machines.
Orland Park lifted its ban on the machines in a 4-3 vote in August 2018, despite losing on two referendums the previous March.
Three months later, the issue in Palos Heights was placed in a nonbinding referendum in November and the machines lost 3,319-2,522.
Palos Park took close to four months to decide what it wanted to do and voted 3-1 to allow Cog Hill Golf and Country Club the opportunity to switch its Class G liquor license to a Class GVG license that would allow the machines.
That leaves just one more Mohican. And Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz wants to keep it that way.
He was unable to attend the March 7 meeting, but said in a statement he opposed video gaming and that it would not be serve the people who voted no in the 2018 referendum. He also said it was a matter of image.
McGovern countered there will be rules in place to not allow advertising and that gaming rooms not be visible from the outside.
“Our streets would look the same,” he said. “We’re not going to allow people to put banners all over the streets or sign going up and down and round and round.
“Gambling in Illinois is a billion-dollar business. It’s not a small business. It’s not the days of Al Capone. It’s not any of that. It’s a legal business and if we don’t have it, we are losing revenue.”
Resident Terry Mueller said he would not frequent a restaurant that had video gaming so it would lose his business.
Barb Pasquinelli, who has been outspoken about the machines since 2013, has not changed her stance in the last decade.
“You are probably thinking that here is a little old lady who is going to say no,” she said at the public hearing. “And you would be absolutely right.”
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Gino Maira, the owner of Mama Vesuvio’s East restaurant, said he has been in business for 42 years, has donated to booster clubs, civic organizations and youth teams, and said many other restaurants in town do as well.
Maira said even taking the hit from the pandemic aside, he pays $65,000 in taxes, and restaurant owners have to “fight every day to stay alive.”
He said having the machines will help bring back customers without harming the city.
“We would keep it organized and keep it in a room separate from everything else,” he said. “We should have a choice if we want it or not. The state has given us that choice. I think Palos Heights should give us the same choice.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.