Whose welfare is the Village attorney protecting?


According to the local press, the Morton Grove Board of Trustees held a first reading of an ordinance that, if approved, would result in a number of changes to village liquor laws.

The ordinance would create two new types of liquor licenses – the Class M liquor license for microbreweries and Class N license for “video gaming cafes,” which would establish caps on how many liquor-license holders can have video gaming machines on the premises at one time. Additionally, the ordinance would raise permit fees on certain liquor licenses and increase the maximum number of Class A licenses.

During discussion of the ordinance at the board’s Sept. 14 meeting, trustee John Thill asked if it would be possible to set a more permanent cap on the number of establishments that have video gaming machines. Terry Liston, attorney for the village of Morton Grove, said a cap would not be possible because it would hamstring future boards. That answer just doesn’t make sense. If the Board of Trustees has the power to change ordinances, which they obviously do, why would it not be possible for a future board to change the cap if they so chose?

Thill added that he was concerned about video gaming’s effect on Morton Grove’s reputation, as well he should be.

Originally the home of the Huscher family before it was converted into a “swanky roadhouse.” During the late 1920s and early 1930s, The Dells eclipsed its competition. Located at the northwest corner of Austin and Dempster, it became the best known and most patronized of the roadhouses in Morton Grove, Illinois. The Dells offered live music and entertainment, dancing, fine food, comfort and ambiance.

The Dells was an incredibly popular and successful commercial enterprise. It boasted a spacious dance floor, broadcast its music performances over the radio airwaves, and, because it was not subjected to the musician union local controls within the city, freely imported nationally renowned musicians and entertainers. The Dells had tasty cuisine — steak, poultry, seafood and even frogs legs — in a well appointed setting on a tranquil wooded lot.

There was more, of course, because The Dells’ prosperous run was concurrent, not the least bit coincidentally, with the Volstead Act and prohibition. Additional attractions included beer, liquor and gambling and gangland wars over the profits of the same. The Dells was said to be owned or controlled by Al Capone and his gang. It is commonly referred to as the most notorious of the Morton Grove roadhouses.

Although slot machines and other forms of gambling were banned in Illinois and Cook County before the turn of the century, they remained relatively easy to find.

The hottest place around here was the “Little Bohemia” strip in Morton Grove, on Dempster Street near Austin. While prohibition was in effect, law enforcement was especially scarce and easily controlled in sparsely populated and rural unincorporated Cook County. Roadhouses there included Club Rendezvous, Lincoln Tavern, Wayside Inn, Club Morton, Walton Club, and most notoriously, The Dells, a roadhouse with a small casino on the second floor, stocked with slot machines, roulette wheels, and other games.

The Dells casino chip

Gambling was permitted to operate in the outreaches of Cook County under a hear no evil, see no evil code of inaction and paid protection during prohibition.

During Morton Grove’s gambling heydays operations were protected through political connections. Surprisingly, today, the man who rides herd of gaming interests in Illinois is none other that State Senator Lou Lang (D-16), who represents Skokie & Morton Grove. Whether it’s gambling, booze or tobacco, Lang’s campaign coffers benefit from contributions. Lang’s campaign fund is one of the largest for a state lawmaker, with more than $1 million. During his 28 years as an Illinois legislator, Lang received more than $6.56 million in donations, state campaign finance records show.lou langLou Lang isn’t a household name, but the veteran state legislator is well known to many as the driving force behind one of the biggest changes to Illinois’ law books in decades: The legalization of medical marijuana.

Before his work on medical marijuana, Lang earned a reputation for expanded legalized gambling in Illinois, proposing dozens of bills over the years seeking to increase wagering in casinos and horse tracks, with slot machines, video consoles and the Internet.

He was among the forces behind the controversial 2009 legislation that allowed municipalities to offer video gaming. Since video gambling went live in 2012, thousands of machines sprouted in thousands of locations including florist shops, truck stops, cafes and coin laundries. Even Lang said the law went well beyond the original intention.

Morton Grove village attorney, Terry Liston, says that to cap gaming in town would hamstring future boards. Since Senator Lang is also an attorney, I wonder if it is possible that he consulted with attorney Liston on this opinion?

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