video-poker-090909.jpg

video-poker-090909.jpgAldermen Tuesday voted to fast-track a ban on video gaming machines in Evanston. At a Rules Committee meeting, they rejected a suggestion to survey local business owners about interest in the the machines and a suggestion that they hold off action until the state gaming board has issues licensing rules. And, despite the city’s budget crunch, they also dismissed the potential for additional tax revenue from the machines. Only Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, voted againsts the ban, although Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, had earlier proposed tabling the discussion to see how neighboring communities deal with the issue and supported the survey of business owners that Rainey proposed.

Aldermen Tuesday voted to fast-track a ban on video gaming machines in Evanston.

At a Rules Committee meeting, they rejected a suggestion to survey local business owners about interest in the the machines and a suggestion that they hold off action until the state gaming board has issues licensing rules.

And, despite the city’s budget crunch, they also dismissed the potential for additional tax revenue from the machines.

Only Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, voted againsts the ban, although Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, had earlier proposed tabling the discussion to see how neighboring communities deal with the issue and supported the survey of business owners that Rainey proposed.

City attorney Elke Purze said it’s likely to take the gaming board 12 to 18 months to establish rules for the operation of the machines and no licenses will be issued until that process has been completed. Under the state law only establishments eligible to have video gaming machines would be restaurants licensed to serve liquor and fraternal and veterans organizations with liquore licenses.

The machines would have to be located in an area of the establishment restricted to persons over 21 years of age. The law would distribute five percent of the net revenue from video gaming machines to the communities in which they are located.

The Illinois Municipal League, citing a report by an econometrics firm, estimates a single machine would typically generate $2,250 in municipal tax revenue per year. It also estimates there could be about 40,000 machines for the state’s 13 million residents.

Based on Evanston’s population of 75,000, that would mean that if the city had a typical number of machines, the city could receive more than $500,000 in tax revenue from them annually.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “I don’t think we would make much money” from video gaming, “and the social consequences would be devastating.”

“It’s lose-lose for us,” she added.

“I totally disagree,” Rainey said. “There is some money in it, and I don’t think there’ll be devastating social consequences. It’s hypocritical to trust a business to administer alcohol but not trust them with five video poker games.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said gaming “would bring an unwanted element to our downtown, particularly if other communities around us choose not to have them.”

Gamblers “would be funneling into Evanston,” she said, adding that the younger, college-age population here adds to the potential social consequences. “People are just starting to drink, and don’t have the best judgment in the world.”

Grover suggested contacting agencies that perform addiction counseling “to see if they have a perspetive on the social consequences” and see whether studies of states that already permite video gaming show an uptick in social issues.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said “A gambling addition is the worst addiction, the hardest to break and has the most serious consequences for family issues, the highest suicide rate.”

“And the money generated would be realy paultry,” she added.

The city staff has already drafted an ordinance to ban the machines, but it was not clear as Tuesday’s meeting ended whether the ordinance would be the agenda for next Monday’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting.

Above: Video poker game screen display from Wikipedia.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. The word this is missing is
    The word this is missing is “gambling“. Using “video gaming” when you mean “video gambling” leads to confusion. The word “gambling” only appears once in the post, in a quote.


    Reply:
    The story also mentions “gamblers” and “poker” and shows a screen shot of a video poker game.

    The statute is called the “Video Gaming Act” and the agency that regulates the machines is the “Illinois Gaming Board.”

    So I think your criticism is misplaced. But thanks for writing.
    — Bill

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