Chicago Suburb Moves Closer to Allowing Video Gaming Terminals Inside Restaurants

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The Chicago suburb of Evanston this week moved closer to allowing video gaming terminals (VGTs) inside restaurants and bars after a local governmental committee signed off on a code modification to permit the slot-like machines.

The Chicago skyline is seen in the distance from Evanston, Il., along Lake Michigan. Evanston has moved closer to allowing video gaming terminals inside restaurants and bars. (Image: Shutterstock)

On Monday, the City of Evanston’s Human Services Committee approved a modification to the regulation of gambling in the City Code. The amendment was proposed by city Alder Devon Reid (8th Ward), whose district is closest to downtown Chicago in Evanston’s most southern section.

Evanston’s City Code 9-5-8 prohibits local eateries and watering holes from participating in the Illinois Video Gaming Act. Passed in 2012, that law allowed cities and municipalities to determine whether to allow VGT gaming in their jurisdictions. Reid had asked the Evanston Human Services Committee to amend 9-5-8 to allow the gaming machines.

The committee narrowly advanced the measure by a 3-2 vote. Evanston is about 10 miles north of the Windy City along Lake Michigan. The city is best known for being the home of Northwestern University, a private university with more than 23,000 students.

Illinois Gaming Expansion

Illinois’ 2012 Video Gaming Act allows such gaming terminals in cities and municipalities where local officials permit them. Each restaurant/bar location is allowed up to six VGTs, and the revenue is shared between five entities.

The host establishment and terminal operator retain most of the gaming revenue, with about 65% of the proceeds split between those two parties. The state receives 29% of the VGT revenue, and the host municipality gets 5%. The remaining 0.8% goes to the Illinois Gaming Board to cover its regulatory costs.

Chicago does not participate in VGTs, though a 2019 state law authorized a major integrated casino resort property in the Windy City’s downtown area. Bally’s is behind that project, a $1.7 billion gaming complex at the Freedom Center — also known as the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center.

The 2019 state gaming expansion package additionally authorized regional casinos in  Danville, Waukegan, Rockford, South Suburbs, and Williamson County.

Though VGT machines in Evanston wouldn’t presumably be of much concern for Bally’s in nearby Chicago, the gaming machines have generated gross revenue of more than $5 billion since the 2012 law was passed.

Reid believes Evanston’s ongoing ban on VGTs is archaic in a time where Illinois residents can place legal sports bets on their mobile devices, and casinos continue to expand across the state. Before the 2019 expansion, Illinois was already home to riverboat casinos, which were legalized in 1990.

VGT Revenue

With Reid’s VGT proposal clearing a city committee, the measure moves to the Evanston City Council for further consideration. The nine alders, the mayor, and the city manager determine local rules and laws as permitted under the Illinois Constitution.

If the VGT measure is adopted, the Evanston government could see its tax receipts balloon in the coming years.

In Berwyn, also a Chicago suburb with about 15,000 fewer residents than Evanston, the city’s 29 VGT locations collectively generated gross gaming revenue of more than $17.3 million last year. The city’s share was $866,273.

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