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Ban these sweepstakes machines

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

* There is a lot going on in Mark Brown’s latest column. I wrote about some of it in today’s subscriber-only edition, but here’s another angle

In the closing days of the spring legislative session, as it became apparent state lawmakers were going to approve a major gambling expansion, the leading proponent of so-called sweepstakes machines began desperately hiring lobbyists in a last-ditch effort to avoid getting left on the sidelines.

Among those who agreed to advocate for legalization of the gambling devices was Frank Bass, a Statehouse veteran who got his lobbying start nearly two decades earlier as a legislative liaison for Cook County government. […]

That’s a long windup to get to my main point, which is that Bass never registered to lobby on behalf of Collage or the sweepstakes folks.

Neither did former state Sen. Annazette Collins of Chicago, who sources tell me also was lobbying in support of the sweepstakes machines in those final days of May but has never officially disclosed it.

I wouldn’t have known anything about their involvement if I hadn’t been poking around.

A third end-of-session sweepstakes lobbyist, Frank McNeil, a former state official and Springfield alderman, did register for Collage, but not until Oct. 29 — after I started making calls.

First, we find out that a sweepstakes machine company owner and Luis Arroyo bribed a state Senator who was wearing a wire. And now this.

Legislators should be up in arms about this unsavory industry. We’ve known about problems with sweepstakes for a while now. Here’s a WBEZ story from last year

A WBEZ investigation found some bars that were deemed unfit for video gambling have simply installed sweepstakes machines instead.

In Streator, a small city about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, you can gamble at sweepstakes machines in a tavern that was denied a license for video slot machines because state inspectors allegedly had uncovered multiple incidents of illegal sports gambling at that bar, records show. […]

The Illinois Gaming Board has maintained for years that sweepstakes machines are illegal. But efforts to crack down on them have encountered legal roadblocks in the past year.

The murky laws have allowed more and more businesses to offer the machines to their customers, officials said, even in some seemingly unlikely places.

On Chicago’s Northwest Side, the Bubbleland coin laundromat at Elston and Kimball has three sweepstakes machines in a corner near the entrance. One of those machines issued a receipt to a reporter who placed a bet and won. The laundromat attendant took the receipt, disappeared behind a door, and quickly returned with cash winnings.

House GOP Leader Jim Durkin and the House Democrats’ gaming point person Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) both filed bills to outlaw the machines. Both bills went nowhere. The Senate Dems’ gaming point person Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) also wanted the machines outlawed. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) has a new bill to ban the machines. One of its hyphenated co-sponsors is Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago).

* Usually, I’m not in favor of banning stuff. Regulations are almost always preferable, in my mind, to outright bans. But this industry has gone out of its way to bring heat upon itself. And nobody should want to sit at the table with them to hash out a regulatory bill. So, I mean, how much more evidence do we need here?

Ban ‘em. This should be a no-brainer.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments
  1. - Say What? - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 10:32 am:

    Absolutely ban them. They are a workaround for those who either cannot get a license for video gaming machines or are too lazy to apply.


  2. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 10:35 am:

    Wow, gambling while doing laundry. You gotta admit that idea is genius. Wish I’d thought of it.


  3. - Anon 10: - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 10:39 am:

    Like it or not, my Dad was right when he said “you’re judged by the company you keep”. And when that “company” has a history steeped in connected to underworld figures, you are going to be judged harshly, quite possibly by a real judge, if you catch my drift.

    I agree that a total ban is in order. I also think the City of Chicago should allow for video poker.


  4. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 10:39 am:

    ===I also think the City of Chicago should allow for video poker===

    Yep. That’s a big part of the problem here.


  5. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    Fine ban them they are just stealing money from the state
    My question is: who is the big proponent that is protecting them in the senate or house. That would be interesting to find out.


  6. - yinn - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 11:52 am:

    ==a workaround for those who either cannot get a license for video gaming==

    Yes, because you must have a liquor license to open a gaming business.


  7. - Chicagonk - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:08 pm:

    What’s the penalty for failing to register as a lobbyist in Illinois?


  8. - ChicagoBars - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:21 pm:

    I don’t work for ICMOA or the video poker operators but Chicago legalizing video poker would do away with these grey market sweepstakes machines you see in some Chicago bars real quick and finally score the City some gaming revenue.

    But not holding my breath.


  9. - low level - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:30 pm:

    Ban the machines because some of their lobbyists failed to register? Then fine Collins, Bass and those that did not comply. If we are talking about banning them because some were found to have sports betting, well, that is about to become legal as well.

    Your original inclination is better, Rich. Enact regulations on the machines, dont ban them altogether. Legalize and tax it.


  10. - Roger Abbott - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:48 pm:

    =Legalize and tax it.=

    Already done. It’s called “video poker”.


  11. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:49 pm:

    “Legislators should be up in arms about this unsavory industry”

    Once this become a bipartisan scandal the hue and cry will follow.


  12. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    ===Ban the machines because some of their lobbyists failed to register?===

    Nope. A pattern has developed. Ban them.


  13. - Been There - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 1:33 pm:

    ===I also think the City of Chicago should allow for video poker===
    ===Yep. That’s a big part of the problem===
    I have always said the city shouldn’t allow them until they get the casino figured out. Who wants to bid on a casino when there might be thousands of machines in all the hotels downtown? The Hilton alone has around 7 licenses. That would be 42 machines right there.


  14. - Been There - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 1:37 pm:

    When I first saw some of the sweepstakes people down in Springfield I asked them why they were there. They said they wanted their business to be legalized to clear up any ambiguity. I told them they were nuts and they would only be drawing attention to themselves as hardly anyone knew who they were. And attention is not always good.


  15. - DIstant watcher - Tuesday, Nov 12, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    Penalties for failure to register as a lobbyist are typically pretty small but the SoS is authorized to hit hard if the violation is egregious, and multiple lobsters who all somehow forgot to acknowledge the same client throughout the final weeks of the spring session fits the mold. Not that the fines should actually hit $10K per day but that’s what statue allows.


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