After spending more than a decade lobbying against gambling venues throughout the state, Kathy Gilroy thought the odds were against a battle erupting on her doorstep in Villa Park.
She figured it would be highly unlikely for her hometown to get an off-track betting parlor as long as one operated in neighboring Oakbrook Terrace.
So when Villa Park officials announced that Arlington Park and Salerno Pincente Ristorante have plans for a joint off-track betting parlor and restaurant along North Avenue, Gilroy said she was "totally flabbergasted."
"I had heard the rumor," the anti-gambling advocate said. "I didn't think it was going to come so quickly. It's like they were trying to sneak it in without any of the residents knowing."
Now Gilroy and dozens of area residents are trying to do what they can to persuade Villa Park leaders to reject the OTB proposal.
Villa Park trustees are expected to vote Feb. 25 on a measure that would enable Arlington Park to apply for a needed permit from the Illinois Racing Board.
"We're not trying to do anything of a stealth nature here," Arlington Park President Roy Arnold said this week. "We're ... aboveboard. We are trying to revitalize our industry … trying to serve our existing customer base."
If built, the 10,000-square-foot facility would generate an estimated $100,000 a year in racing profits for Villa Park.
But several residents are objecting to the plan on moral grounds.
"To Muslims, gambling is an abominable sin," said Abdool Khan, a scholar from the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park. "This will infringe on our religious rights.
"We do not want gambling here in Villa Park," he added.
Mary Ann DiCianni of Elmhurst agrees.
"My husband was a compulsive gambler," said DiCianni, who attends a Villa Park church. "This addiction ate him. Why would a community want to make its money off a vice?"
Some residents have raised concerns about traffic, falling property values and increased crime.
Arlington Park officials say there haven't been any significant criminal problems at the off-track betting parlors owned by the racetrack and its parent company, Churchill Downs.
Villa Park Police Chief John Payne said problems at the OTB in Oakbrook Terrace have been limited to lack of parking on major race days.
"I would expect there would be a lot less calls for service than when Denny's was there," Payne said of the proposed Villa Park site near North Park Mall.
Plans call for the facility to have a total capacity of 250 people.
Arnold said half the space would be devoted to the betting parlor, where wagering generally would occur between 10 a.m. and midnight. Hours for the bar and restaurant may be longer.
Some Villa Park residents say the proposed OTB would be a welcome addition to the community.
"I favor it. I'm an avid racing fan," resident John Carbonara said. "You can get carried away. You've got to know when to quit."
While Villa Park Trustee Tom Cullerton has voiced support for the plan, most board members say they remain undecided.
Opponents say they aim to spend the next week meeting with each trustee individually and lobbying local businesses and other residents to say no to the proposal.
Meanwhile, Gilroy says her past anti-gambling efforts have prepared her for this fight.
"I got a lot of practice," she said.