Kites, Slugs, and Liquor Loopholes: Interesting Chicago and Illinois Laws

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When it comes to writing and enforcing laws, few places have more unique prohibitions and loopholes than Chicago. As times change, so do the needs and behaviors of a city’s population.  Because of changes in cultural norms, technology and a host of other social influences, laws need to be continuously reviewed and refreshed. Sometimes, however, laws are left on the books far beyond their usefulness, a subject that internet users have found endlessly entertaining in recent years.

For example, one list of unusual laws claims it is illegal to fly a kite within Chicago city limits. This likely refers to an ordinance found in Joseph E. Gary’s 1866 edition of Laws and Ordinances Governing the City of Chicago, which states that bans “the rolling of…hoops, playing of ball, flying of kites, or any other amusement or practice having a tendency to annoy persons passing in the streets, or on the sidewalks, or to frighten teams and horses” (8.28). This same volume also bans drinking alcohol, playing cards (with or without betting), and riding your horse too fast on city streets (Gary).

Modern advances in technology and ways of thinking have made many of these prohibitions obsolete – including the ban on flying kites. This ordinance was officially removed from the books in the 1970s but remains an object of fascination for students of quaint or quirky laws.

Still, some outdated laws remain in effect. For example, few people under the age of twenty-five remember the ubiquity and usefulness of the public payphone. But for older generations, the payphone is often remembered as both a necessary utility and a target for abuse. For the uninitiated, to make a call from a payphone, one would need to either insert coins into the machine to pay for the call or purchase a calling card with a prepaid code to dial out.

To get around the need to pay for calls, hackers quickly realized that a cheap counterfeit coin or another object, called a slug, could be used instead of real currency. Used in vending machines, parking meters, and gaming machines as well, slugs are designed to trick a machine into accepting it. Using a slug, some thieves would try to fool a machine into releasing coins from the coin box as well.

To curb theft involving the use of slugs in payphones, the City of Chicago enacted a city ordinance making it illegal to manipulate telephone coin boxes. Municipal Code 8-8, “Public Morals,” states that it is “unlawful for any person to insert, or to attempt to insert, into the coin box or money receptacle of any telephone, any slug, button, or other substance” into a payphone “with the intent to obtain telephone service without paying” (8-8-180).  Listed alongside other moral failings, including patronizing a “house of ill fame” and indecent exposure, “manipulating telephone coin boxes” is one city regulation that remains in effect today.

Unlike payphones, drinking alcohol will likely never become obsolete. But the laws regulating the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages change often. Like most states, Illinois law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol and strictly regulates the sale of liquor to minors. However, upon closer examination, there are some interesting loopholes in this law that allow for young people seeking to consume alcohol before their 21st birthday.

For example, Public Act 097-1058 clearly states that “the consumption of alcoholic liquor by any person under 21 years of age is forbidden.” However, several interesting exceptions follow. The first exception to the rule is that if a person under 21 is drinking alcohol as part of a religious service or ceremony or is under the direct supervision of a parent or legal guardian and in the privacy of their own home, they can legally do so.

Other circumstances in which the age of prohibition does not apply include being a culinary student. As long as a person is over 18 and enrolled in an accredited culinary arts degree program, the law states that they can “taste, but…not imbibe, alcoholic liquor…under the direct supervision of an instructor” up to six times per class session  (235 ILCS 5/6-20). As far as loopholes go, this one offers many intriguing options for young adults in Chicago.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.