In 2009 the Evanston City Council considered opening the door to legalized video gambling terminals in establishments – but closed it quickly.

That attitude might not prevail today. At their meeting on Monday, May 1, members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee voted 3-2 in support of Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid’s call for changes to the city’s gambling ordinance. 

slot machines
A committee of the Evanston City Council rejected video gambling machines in 2009, but current council members may be more inclined. Credit: Darya Sannikova on

Under the proposal, staff would bring back their findings to the committee in three months.

Voting in favor were Reid, Juan Geracaris (9th Ward) and Bobby Burns (5th Ward). Voting against were Krissie Harris (2nd Ward) and Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward).

Aligning with the world today: Reid

In making the proposal, Reid said one of the driving forces was “making sure that city code aligns with the world as it is today and with our values as they are today.”

Reid said he personally dislikes gambling but said he was concerned that having police enforce the current city code “is potentially putting our city at liability, legal liability, and missing an opportunity to make sure that we are not overpolicing certain communities.”

Beyond that, he said gambling “is potentially a good source of revenue for the city.”

Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward) speaks in favor of changing the city’s gambling code at the May 1 meeting of the Human Services Committee. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

“You know, our dollars are potentially leaving Evanston or certainly leaving Evanston because we don’t have this,” he said, “and we could keep more of the money local.”

Reid said the change could benefit both businesses who choose to install gaming machines as well as the city, by generating revenue from sales and gambling taxes.

He further noted that in Illinois, “gambling is legal here,” and “you’re allowed to gamble under state law. Certainly, it is regulated under state law, and I think we need to more closely mirror state law on the on this issue.”

Reid said the city’s law is badly in need of an update from when it was written in the 1950s.

As the law is currently written, Reid told committee members, if he were to download the application for Draft Kings, a sports gambling site, on his cellphone, “the Evanston Police Department would be able to confiscate my phone and place me under arrest.”

Geracaris, chairing the meeting, expressed support for moving forward on Reid’s proposal.

“I’ve spoken with a number of residents who are in favor of … loosening our code around gambling, just specifically for small businesses,” he said, “and this is like a first step.”

Revelle noted that the current ordinance is quite lengthy, with one section addressing video gaming. “So if the goal here is to pave the way for video gaming, couldn’t we merely focus on that piece of the ordinance?” she asked.

She also asked about a statement from the Evanston Police Department in the staff memo on the issue that was provided for the meeting..

The statement said the EPD “does not object to licensed sports betting and other forms of gambling via the internet including through mobile applications except by any person under the age of 21 years old. The Evanston Police Department (EPD) does not recommend modifying the Code to make a distinction between gambling on private and public property.”

Revelle asked police Cmdr. Ryan Glew, who was at the meeting, how often the department actually enforces the ordinance.

“We have not had a gambling arrest in approximately 10 years,” Glew replied.

Enforcing the gambling ordinance, he said, was something that took place a couple of generations ago, but is not a recent problem.

Evanston Police Cmdr. Ryan Glew, speaking at Monday’s Human Services Committee meeting, said he did not see a situation where EPD would be enforcing gambling laws against cellphone users. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

Glew told the committee that the position of EPD is “that any [ordinance] language that would result in privatized gambling that was outside of regulation or oversight” would be something the department would be concerned about, “because that could lead to quality of life issues in certain areas, other crimes and so forth.”

Reid said he was “fully onboard” with addressing some of those concerns.

“I think we need to make sure that gambling establishments are regulated,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense, you know, willy-nilly to allow [ordinary people like] Willy or Nilly to create a gambling establishment in their home. And so there needs to be strict regulation where this can and cannot take place.”

Reid also highlighted reasons to change the language in the current ordinance, which he said carries fines of $200 to $500 for each violation.

Reid said the ordinance doesn’t address what couldn’t have been contemplated when it was adopted in 1957, such as cellphones and other devices on which people can gamble, as well as “the legal machines that we would potentially want to see in our city.”

The ordinance also doesn’t take into account that certain forms of gambling qualify “as more of a cultural pastime in certain communities,” Reid said.

“I don’t think we should have in our code something that criminalizes something that potentially is innocent,” he said. 

Rules committee rejected gambling in 2009

Legalizing gambling has surfaced occasionally in council discussions, dating back more than a decade, particularly during times when the city was strapped for revenue.

In 2009, the Rules Committee voted 8-1against allowing video gambling terminals in city bars or restaurants.

Summing up the action, then-Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl commented, “I don’t think we would be making that much money from it, and I understand the consequences are devastating.”

Then-Alderman Ann Rainey (8th Ward), was the only vote against the gambling ban, maintaining officials should at least get comment from members of the business community.

As to the social consequences, Rainey said it was inconsistent for city officials to say, “We trust you in the service of alcohol in the city of Evanston to people 21 and over, but we don’t trust you with five video poker machines, if you want them.”

Gaming sales rep proposes pilot program

During the public comment portion of the May 1 meeting, several residents, including former Ridgeville Park Commissioners Dan Coyne and Rob Bady, spoke in support of the council moving forward on the gambling.

“Thank you for engaging this conversation on what I think is a potential resource not only for our small businesses, but also for our city budget,” Coyne said.

“I understand the hesitancy,” Coyne said, “given the historical addictions and corruption in this particular field. But as in all new legal endeavors, one can envision oversight guardrails and proactive supports.

“Why send Evanston dollars into other communities when we could invest right here, for instance at the Firehouse Grill and Bluestone.”

Bady prefaced his remarks by noting he works as a sales rep for Eureka Entertainment, which owns the Universal Gaming Group, a leading operator of video gaming terminals in Illinois.

He told committee members he had spoken about the issue with Patrick Fowler, owner of the two restaurants mentioned by Coyne, “and we decided it was time to bring the conversation to the committee, bring it to the council and the city.”

Fowler employs some 100 people in Evanston, and was the only business owner to add to his business during COVID-19, Bady said.

“He is an Evanstonian and has helped out many nonprofits,” he said.

Bady spoke of the gambling outlets already available. 

“You can gamble on your phone,” he said. “You can, of course, gamble at CVS through the lottery, which we’ve all done when it’s hit a billion.”

He proposed that committee members consider a two-year pilot for accessory gaming in a place such as the Firehouse Grill to get the program going.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. please make this terrible idea stop. evanston is not an island and gambler’s can travel to Morton Grove if they want to enjoy games of chance in a bar setting. I suggest the All Inn 5707 Dempster St, Morton Grove, IL 60053

  2. Video gambling at EV bar establishments (at bar seating) may be good testing grounds. Secondly, our large senior pop. has time and money so with electronic music and regular slot machines, Levy Center could include a fun space that may also attract residents from Merion and Mather, plus neighboring retirees-paved parking is already available! Sufficient amount of senior health / wellness activity in numerous locations plus cultural events do exist in EV so new Senior fun entertainment might be enjoyed and increase revenue. Refreshment details TBD. CealHanchar

  3. All forms of gambling take money out of the community and send it outside the state and often outside the country. Gambling may increase some tax revenue, but it takes money outside of the area and makes local businesses poorer and decreases the real revenue stream. Devon Reid has many bad ideas.