WEST FRANKFORT — Mayor Tom Jordan said after lively, but civil debate, the West Frankfort City Council is moving forward to change the way the city handles liquor licenses and video gaming.
The council was scheduled to discuss expanding its Class A liquor licenses and to approve a request for a new license.
Jordan said during September’s meeting, a discussion surrounding the Nifty Swifty gas station’s request for a liquor license prompted Tuesday’s agenda item. Jordan said the gas station owners requested a license in order to place a gaming facility in a new 72 feet by 36 feet convenience store and gaming station that would replace the gas station — the State of Illinois requires gaming establishments have a Class A license.
“The other option was if we don’t then there’s concerns they would have to close the business,” Jordan said of the request. He explained that he believed the item deserved a broader discussion that involved greater public input.
Tuesday’s meeting provided just that. Jordan said business owners that have gaming at their establishments came to speak against adding a new license and expanding the number of licenses the city offers — there were seven at the time. Jordan said they were concerned about a reduction in their revenue.
According to an August Illinois Gaming Board Report, West Frankfort’s net wagering activity among seven gaming sites is just shy of $1.5 million.
“The concern is that the gaming pie, and what is going to be spent in West Frankfort, is a known quantity,” Jordan said.
He said he sees both sides of the coin. Ultimately though, he said he is inclined to side with development. He asked this question: “Do we not grow, do we not look to other people to come in if it’s going to hurt somebody that’s already here?”
In the end, Jordan said the City Council decided to expand the number of available Class A Licenses in the city from seven to 10, granting the Nifty Swifty request.
Jordan said he personally is not in favor of gaming, but said he is tasked with managing development in the city within the law. He said gaming is legal in the state and while West Frankfort does not want to be a gaming hub in Southern Illinois, it can help some businesses stay afloat, which is good for the city.
“We want to be good stewards and make sure the community doesn’t suffer at our hands,” he said. “I’m anti-gaming, but I’m pro-West Frankfort."
There was some discussion also, Jordan said, of what criteria the city will use in the future in granting the remaining liquor licenses.
“The city’s position right is now is … in order to get a gaming license in West Frankfort, we would like you to invest in the community,” Jordan said.
Jordan said what that investment looks like will be up for debate in the next few months. He said he would like established businesses previous investments in the city to be considered should someone want to apply for a license.
“First priority would be the people that are already here,” Jordan said.
Jordan said he wants to make sure there are set, publicly known criteria to be used in these decisions so no one feels discriminated against. He said this will be discussed in the coming months during council meetings.
By adding more liquor licenses, the city will potentially be able to support more community development endeavors. Jordan said half of the city’s revenue from gaming is put to community building, particularly aimed at young people — in August, the city received $52,498.40 according to the Gaming Board Report. Jordan said in the past, the city has donated to a local park, sponsored a trip to Chicago for a local student to attend a thespian competition, as well as to a local cheer leading squad.
Jordan said he is really pleased with the tone of the debate Tuesday.
“It was great to be involved in that discussion and we look forward to moving forward in a positive way,” he said.