CAMPTON HILLS- Residents of Campton Hills will have an opportunity to answer, “Shall gambling in the form of video gaming be allowed in their Village?” in an advisory referendum during the consolidated election on April 2.
Whether that sways the decision of the Village Board one way or the other has yet to be determined, although almost 70 percent of those who voted in a referendum in 2012 were against video gambling and it remains banned today.
All but Village Trustee Nick Girka voted in favor of instituting the advisory referendum during a special board meeting on Jan. 11.
“My position is clear,” Girka said. “I was elected as a representative and republic. I’ll be laughed at today and I’ll be laughed at at Tuesday’s meeting and that’s OK, but to kick the can down the road and use what is probably the most cowardly act in the politician’s arsenal of an advisory referendum, I’m insulted I had to be here this morning.”
Girka wasn’t the only trustee insulted on Friday morning, which was made clear after Village President Harry Blecker said that the board attempted to silence Village residents by not seconding a prior motion for the aforementioned referendum question in January 2017.
“That motion failed for a second,” Blecker said. “They’re (the trustees) silent now but when push comes to shove they’re saying we’ve got to hear from everybody, and yes you should, but this should’ve been done two years ago.”
Trustee Mike O’Dwyer balked at Blecker’s comments.
“I take exception to the dramatic comments that the president (Blecker) made on silencing the public,” O’Dwyer said. “Making up a bold comment that is false, that this board or any members of this board tried to silence the public is an absolute false statement. In no way was that going to happen. There wasn’t a second to approve or disapprove gambling, it was whether or not the board would put another resolution, which is the same thing before us right now, on the ballot.”
Trustee Mike Millette questioned how he should feel.
“I’m not sure if I should be still feeling insulted from last year or vindicated now,” he said. “Why are we here if when I made this motion back then nobody seconded it? What’s changed? Is there more awareness?”
There is not anti-business sentiment in Campton Hills, trustee Mike Tyrrell explained. It’s a community of residents with a balance of business.
“One should not overpower and exceed the other,” he said. “This is a community that does not want to look like St. Charles or Geneva. We don’t want massive billboards and flashing signs. It’s a semi-rural community. That’s its’ foundation. The Village Board reached a consensus to not lift the video gambling prohibition currently in place, so I would refer also to (Blecker) who is in a position of not being in favor of video gambling.”
Girka explained that the board – not the public - was elected to make a decision regarding video gambling. He’s willing to listen to the public, and they have the opportunity of speaking by electing officials every two years as well as sharing their opinions during meetings. That should suffice.
“I was elected to watch out for the little guy, and in this scenario, the business is the little guy,” Girka said. “It’s unfortunate that certain people have biases based on their moral, ethical feelings that I feel are unfounded, that’s my opinion, but to continue to turn to the businesses and say we don’t care, we’re going to shirk out responsibilities and leave the decision to the people. What they tell us on advisory committee is their opinion and I remind you it’s advisory.”
Mark Bezik, part owner of Niko's Tavern in Campton Hills, wondered during public comment if the residents would also be making other decisions for the Village Board. Would a steakhouse be allowed or would it be denied because it might offend vegetarians? What about a fondue place or would the lactose intolerant residents be up in arms?
“We’re losing business to other towns,” Bezik explained. “When a new restaurant comes to town, we don’t poll everyone on what kind of restaurants should come to town.”
Nine out of 10 residents in the advisory referendum could advocate video gambling, and then some local businesses might think they hit the jackpot, but the board could still keep the gambling ban in place.
“Advisory is not necessarily the end, so I don’t want businesses to think this is going to be a residential decision, because that is not the intent,” trustee Susan George said. “The idea behind the advisory is for all communications to be out there from any individual, entity, what-have-you to influence what you value most.”
Said Blecker: “If the referendum goes 80 percent one way, the board can still vote to go the other way and that works both ways. If they have 80 percent people who say we want video gambling, this board can still say no.”
Approximately 30 residents attended the meeting with about a dozen addressing the board with mixed opinions.
“I’m not a proponent of giving someone a chance to go into something that they perhaps shouldn’t because people lose enough money in many other ways,” resident Mary Windland said. “Of course that’s their choice, but I don’t see why the Village of Campton Hills has to be like everywhere else.”
Resident Mary Frederick is pleased the board will collect the public’s opinion before making a final decision.
“It’s been seven years since the last (advisory referendum) and our community has changed so much, so maybe more people are for it now,” she said. “To just go ahead and pass it is basically a slap in the face of the people who have basically said this is what we want.”
Resident Jim McElvie agrees.
“A precedent has been somewhat set in 2012 of getting a pulse of the community,” he said. “I don’t see any harm in going to see that pulse one more time.”
At least one resident won’t dine at a restaurant if it’s allowed to have video gambling.
“I don’t trust the word ‘gambling’ and that bothers me,” resident Darlene Bakk said. “My personal experience is that I went to the Village Squire for lunch and somebody started doing video games. It was noisy and annoying and I will never go back to that restaurant again.”
Dave Eshoo, a Campton Hills resident for nearly 30 years and owner of Helping Hand IT in the Village as well, said he’s passionate about business choices and would welcome video gambling.
“Every business in here feeds off of each other and we need to keep these businesses in place,” he said. “It’s not just about our residents and I am a long-time resident and I’ve seen us grow.”
Kim Weiss, general manager of Old Towne Pub and Eatery, explained how her business is struggling because her competitors have video gambling.
“I believe the board should make a decision, not the residents,” she said. “The public make me uneasy that they have a right to determine this, especially after we’ve been dedicated to this Village for such a long time.”