As route gaming has expanded across the state of Illinois, more and more municipalities have begun to reexamine local ordinances in an effort to take advantage of the benefits gaming brings to local businesses and their communities. In 2021, some officials in the city of Evanston decided to investigate their own local ordinances.
What they found was that the city’s existing ordinances were antiquated, written decades ago aimed at keeping common street gambling and illegal gambling operations out of the city. This sparked a discussion between local businesses owners, officials and Evanston residents about what legalized gaming might be able to offer the city.
Knowing the community well, Rob Bady, Territory Sales Manager with UGG, and longtime Evanston resident felt that he could bring some valuable knowledge and insights to facilitate the conversation between the business community and Evanston officials.
“There’s a large population in Evanston who likes the idea of added entertainment and revenue possibilities,” says Bady. “We started working together to bring the idea forward. We all want to be able to bring about positive change and we want to make the right decision.”
Bady embarked on an educational tour visiting local restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, and meeting with the mayor, council members and associations to explain how video gaming works. Discussions centered around regulations and requirements, potential impacts, and how revenues are generated and split between businesses and local governments.
“We talked a lot about getting Evanston businesses back on track,” says Bady. “Covid took its toll on the business community. We’re all looking for a way to accelerate business growth, and to take advantage of new opportunities. For example, United Laboratories is moving their headquarters here, bringing thousands of workers to our city. We also have major public attractions like Northwestern football and basketball that bring hundreds of thousands of people to Evanston every year. We want to keep that revenue in Evanston as much as possible, rather than watching it go to neighboring cities and businesses.”
What resulted was the idea to start with a pilot program of a few establishments to gather data and to give the community ample time to see the positive change video gaming could offer. In May of 2023, the Human Services Committee of Evanston voted 3-2 to update the gambling ordinance language to include video gaming. Over the next few months, the Human Services committee will decide on the specifics of the gambling ordinance, with the possibility of adding a 2-year trial of video gaming as proposed by the 8th ward alderperson. If the change and votes are favorable, this would then move to the city council for a vote to approve the ordinance. Evanston has now laid the groundwork for the next steps in adding a critical new revenue stream for the city and local businesses and new entertainment experiences for citizens and visitors.
“I think Evanston is a great example of how to do things the right way in this industry,” says Bady. “We took the time to have the conversations, to gain trust, and to build the relationships that matter so much to this community. At Universal Gaming Group, we take great pride in doing the right things the right way. We care about the good of gaming and the good of the community. I think that’s why we have success with local businesses and governments, like the great city of Evanston.”