By Natalie Rodriguez
Years after video game poker was approved, Berwyn residents are still conflicted about the machines. Steve Wallon, longtime homeowner in Berwyn believes that video game poker damages the community.
“This hurts a community’s image, especially for Berwyn, by attracting a certain crowd that is not desirable to young families or new home buyers,” says Wallon.
Alderman Ted Polashek, who is currently running for mayor against incumbent Robert Lovero, said he feels the same way. According to Polashek, although there are ordinances for the signs, their presence still affects the community’s image.
“You’re selling Berwyn as a great community for your family and as you’re driving down you got some gambling casinos are really right next to each other,” said Polashek. “You got one down a hundred feet from another one, or two hundred feet from another one and they got neon signs in there blinking and it’s like Pottersville in some areas of town.”
Many establishments have installed video game technologies where both the state and the city receive a percentage of the revenue made. According to Berwyn’s Finance Director Rasheed Jones, the city earned revenue of $385,104.14 in 2015 from video game poker and the revenue goes towards the City’s major departments,
“Consistent with most municipalities, the Video Gaming Tax revenue is deposited into the city’s General Fund,” said Jones. “The General Fund supports the city’s major departments, such as the Fire Department, the Police Department, and the Public Works Department,” Jones said.
In a September interview, Mayor Robert Lovero stated that video game machines had generally been positive.
“People are objecting to these gaming places and there have been problems in bars, but not because of the machines,” he said.
According to Lovero, the city benefits greatly from the machines.
“The city makes $40,000 a month just from video poker,” said Lovero. “…video poker keeps us at a level where we don’t have to raise taxes on houses. Because of video poker, businesses choose to open in Berwyn.”
However, Polashek believes that the new video game technologies have hurt long time established businesses in the area.
“… these mom and pop shops that have been around for years that feel like they’re neglected now, they’ve been part of the community for a long time,” said Polashek. “Now that these video gaming places just popped out of nowhere they’re taking business away from businesses that have been established already.”
Will Diaz, bartender at For Old Times Sake, at 6428 W Cermak Road, saw an increase in business since the lounge installed video game poker machines two months ago.
“Absolutely, there was a lot of people that wouldn’t come in here before the machines came,” said Diaz. “There’s a bar across the street that doesn’t have the machines so there’s people here that come just to play the machines ‘cuz they know we have them.”
Other residents, however, worry about the effects video game poker has on the community. Wallon says that video game poker makes the city less attractive.
“No one wants to live near gambling,” he said. “It’s frowned upon by general society by being a vice.”
Ines Arteaga, manager of Guadalajara Grill and Bar at 6814 Cermak Road, said she believes that playing the machines can become a habit.
“…I mean get addicted to it, I play myself, I didn’t play before, so like having them here,” she said. “I’ll get out of work and start playing.”
The lure of a big payoff makes it appealing.
“Thinking you’re going to win, like you’re going to win a major jackpot, yeah ok.”
This urge to play is encouraged by the many neon signs advertising playing slots. Residents don’t have to look far to find a machine. According to the Illinois Gaming Board, there are currently 54 establishments and 241 video game technologies in Berwyn. Compared to other neighboring towns, Berwyn exceeds North Riverside who has ten establishments with video game poker, Stickney five, Cicero 29, and Oak Park zero.
Approved on April 26, a new ordinance limits the number of video game cafes (establishments created for the sole purpose of video poker) to 15, which is the number of cafes currently in Berwyn. All other establishments that want video game poker machines must have a liquor license and have been in business for at least one year.
Polashek doesn’t believe the city should get rid of all the video game cafes in town but that a better control of the number of video game cafes is needed through the process of an ordinance.
“…If one were to close, you make the amendment to say ‘we’re only allowing 10 video gaming cafes in town, cut it back from 15 to 10 and after that you cut it back to five,’” said Polashek. “Like I said you want to make sure that it’s done respectfully.”
Wallon believes that there is no outlet to complain when these decisions are made.
“Many decisions regarding development are done behind closed doors or during awkward city hall meeting times where many can’t attend…” he said. “ They are supposed to keep tabs on this stuff, but they have failed the residents miserably.”
Polashek thinks that better communication is needed with the community regarding these decisions as well.
“You need to make sure that you ask the residents what they feel, do a meeting and talk to people, try to get a feel,” said Polashek.
Wallon said that video poker is not the best way to improve Berwyn.
“If they want revitalization, they need to invest in infrastructure and build a desirable community. Allowing gambling facilities into the area is not the answer.”
Polashek believes that this issue should be addressed. “Berwyn is a great community for the family and we want is to preserve that,” said Polashek. “… you want to make sure you got to be pro-business but at the same time you got to make sure you’re not selling your soul for a quick buck.”