At its Sept. 14 meeting, City Council passed an ordinance banning video poker in Evanston, racing to become the first municipality in Illinois to do so. While the measure was the object of fierce but lopsided debate in Rules Committee, the vote at Council level was without incident, occurring before rolling Chicago-area news cameras and a somewhat confused crowd that wondered why the cameras were there.
A week earlier, this result seemed unlikely. While the Rules Committee voted to recommend that the full City Council ban video poker machines from the City, the decision was not without debate. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, presented a spirited argument against “legislating morality.”
The ordinance comes in response to a state law legalizing the games in certain establishments provided specific conditions are met. Under the state law, cities and counties may “opt out” of the law’s provisions. Evanston has done so.
According to an analysis by Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics, the City’s share of tax revenue from each video poker machine would range from about $19,000 worst-case to $58,000 best-case scenario. Estimating a maximum of about 50 machines in the City, the total tax revenue would be between $172,000 and $525,000, according to the Econometrics estimates.
Mayor Elizabeth B. Tisdahl opened the Rules Committee discussion, saying, “I don’t think we would make that much money from it, and from what I understand the social consequences [of gambling] can be devastating.”
One by one the aldermen lined up against video poker in Evanston at the Rules Committee meeting. Alderman Donald N. Wilson, 4th Ward, referenced the addictive quality of non-gambling video games on children when agreeing with the Mayor’s assessment of the social consequences of gambling. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, spoke against an unwanted element being drawn to downtown, particularly if neighboring communities ban the machines. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, called gambling addiction “the worst addiction, the hardest to break, [with the] highest suicide rate.” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, feared an added enforcement burden for the police department in enforcing age restrictions (one must be 21 or over to play the games per state law).
“I totally disagree,” responded Ald. Rainey. “I don’t like being the morality police.” Ald. Rainey and had put aside her disagreement by the time the Council meeting rolled around. She voted for the ordinance and for a motion to suspend the rules to allow for its passage in one night rather than the usual introduction at one meeting and passage at the next. “I don’t want to stand out,” she explained, but added, “Video poker is a lot of fun and you all should try it.”
Passage of the ordinance makes Evanston one of the first, if not the first, municipalities or counties in Illinois to ban the machines.