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Board: No more gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Video gaming cafés are no longer welcome in Oak Lawn, following passage of a new ordinance by the Oak Lawn Village Board on Tuesday night.

Mayor Sandra Bury, who introduced the ordinance, said it would have no effect on the two video gaming cafés already in the village. A total of 34 bars, restaurants and other businesses with liquor licenses currently offer video gaming in Oak Lawn.

‘Video gaming is big money,” she said, pointing to Illinois Gaming Board statistics showing that more than $333 million has been wagered at the machines in Oak Lawn since video gaming was introduced in 2012. The two gaming cafés account for 15 percent of that amount. In August alone, $11.5 million was wagered.

“When video gaming was approved by the previous administration, it was because the existing businesses came out in force and asked for help in a difficult economy. I have no doubt that if it had not been approved, some businesses that we know and love would not be open,” she said.

Bury said the unanimously approved ordinance would “raise the bar” for businesses seeking gaming licenses to ensure that gaming wasn’t their primary purpose. About 71 businesses in the village have liquor licenses, which entitles them to apply for gaming licenses, according to state law. But the mayor said the goal is to help “brick-and-mortar businesses” that offer more than video gaming.

The other issue discussed was vehicle stickers, following recent efforts by the village to catch up to vehicle owners who don’t buy them as required.

Several trustees reported hearing from residents who received letters in September from Finance Director Brian Hanigan, saying they had not bought stickers of vehicles registered to their address. Some either had bought the stickers or no longer owned the vehicles in question.

Those who had not bought stickers were told they owed the $25 sticker fee, plus a $100 penalty, which would be reduced to $50 if the stickers were bought by Oct. 31. He said the effort resulted in the village collecting $40,000. Hanigan pointed out that the sticker fees are lower in Oak Lawn than most neighboring communities.

Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) said he received one of the letters, and was thankful he had the receipt to prove he had purchased the sticker by the June 30 deadline. But he said many residents complained about having to come to Village Hall to sort out the matter

Hanigan explained that the letters were sent in order to track down “scofflaws” who neglected to buy the village stickers to do so. He said some letters were sent in error, because the village was using the Secretary of State’s database of vehicle registration, which did not always match with the information on file in the village.

“People don’t always inform the state or us when they changes vehicle,” said Hanigan.

“This is the first time we did this, and the database will be cleaned up next time,” he said.

He also pointed out that most trips to Village Hall were unnecessary because the letters stated that those who no longer owned the vehicle in question could state that and return the letter by mail.

“The trustees and I have talked about this for a while. Vehicle stickers are a revenue source, but they are considered a nuisance by a lot of residents,” said Bury. She asked Village Manager Larry Deetjen to look into the possibility of eliminating stickers, and making up the revenue elsewhere.

But that didn’t go over too well with Hanigan.

“They account for 900,000 in revenue to the village this year. I’m all ears as to how we are going to make up that amount of money in the budget, when we owe pensions,” said Hanigan, noting that he has followed orders from the board not to raise property taxes in recent years.

“If we want to get rid of the village stickers, it is incumbent on all of us on this board to come up with ways to make up the lost revenue,” said Trustee Mike Carberry (6th).