Evanston Rejects Proposal to Allow Gambling Machines in Restaurants

Written By Phil West on June 4, 2024
Five thumbs down votes signify Evanston City Council voting down VGTs in restaurants

By a 5-2 vote last week, the Evanston City Council rejected a proposal to allow video gambling machines in the city’s restaurants.

Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid wanted to change the city’s code, which prohibits video gaming terminals. According to Evanston Now, Reid proposed allowing up to nine Evanston restaurants to house the machines to “help restaurant owners make up for revenue lost as a result of changes in dining habits in the wake of the pandemic.”

But most on the council reasoned that the harm to the community would far outweigh the benefits.

Local Illinois jurisdictions can ban video gaming terminals

While video gaming terminals (VGTs) are legal in Illinois, several cities have explicitly outlawed them. The state’s Video Game Act dates back to 2009. The act has been amended twice since then, most recently in 2019.

VGTs are in restaurants and bars throughout the state. Some cities have placed restrictions on businesses housing them, while others have banned them.

The Video Gaming Act allows a municipality to “pass an ordinance prohibiting video gaming within the corporate limits of the municipality. A county board may, for the unincorporated area of the county, pass an ordinance prohibiting video gaming within the unincorporated area of the county.”

Council member was originally in favor of the machines

Evanston Council Member Melissa Wynne, who voted against the measure, told the Evanston Roundtable that she favored VGTs until she learned more about the slots-like machines.

“Initially when I was approached about this idea of having a video game terminal in some of our restaurants, I was willing to entertain it. But during the discussions that were held at Human Services Committee … I followed them very closely. And I followed the testimony that was given and the public discussion that occurred. My mind has changed.

“We know that video gaming is one of the most addictive forms of gambling. This is, to me, an unnecessary harm that we’re bringing into our community. And although it may be on our phones, and it may be in other places, it doesn’t mean that it needs to have the imprimatur of the city.”

According to the Roundtable, the proposal called for 65% of net proceeds from the VGTs to be split between the companies owning the terminals and the restaurants hosting the machines. The remainder would be tax revenue, with 29% going to the state, 5% going to Evanston, and 0.85% set aside for the Illinois Gaming Board.

The Roundtable noted that “local fraternal and veteran organizations such as Evanston’s American Legion Post 42 and Veterans of Foreign Wars are already moving forward to apply for gambling terminals, taking advantage of a change in state law that allows those organizations to apply for licenses even in cities that prohibit the activity.”

Decatur set restrictions on VGTs

Several other Illinois communities are weighing or have recently weighed these matters. In the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, residents will vote on a referendum this November to allow up to 10 businesses to hold gaming licenses.

Decatur, considered “the gambling capital of Illinois,” acted late last year to control the proliferation of VGTs. It enacted a 40% rule, dictating that a host establishment must make at least 40% of its revenue from non-gaming sources.

Parlors making most of their revenue from VGTs are exempt, but their annual license costs rose from $6,000 to $10,000.

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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