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Commission: ‘Sweepstakes’ games should be outlawed

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:20 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – An anti-crime group is backing legislation in the Illinois General Assembly that would outlaw “sweepstakes” machines that the group said are illegal video gambling devices – unregulated and inviting to organized crime.

The Chicago Crime Commission, a nonpartisan group of civic leaders that works to improve public safety and the justice system, has planned a news conference Sunday to lend its support to a measure sponsored by Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz, a Chicago Democrat. It would remove a provision in existing law that allows for unlicensed gambling devices if they are used in nongambling activities.

Sweepstakes or coupon machines resemble video gambling kiosks in bars, restaurants, convenience stores and elsewhere, Art Bilek, executive vice president of the crime commission, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

But unlike state-regulated video gambling operations, none of the money goes to help local or state governments and no one associated with the machines must undergo a criminal background check. That’s an open door for organized crime, Bilek said.

“The last thing we want is for the Outfit, who’s down pretty low thanks to the FBI, to start getting all this ... money back in their veins,” Bilek said. “Here’s a machine, now, that has no rules.”

Supporters of the machines said they don’t offer gambling, but a coupon that can be redeemed for prizes. In a notice posted on the Illinois Gaming Board website declaring the operations illegal, the board notes that courts in eight states, including Indiana and Ohio, have rejected this argument.

The board notice said when a patron puts money in a sweepstakes kiosk, it offers a coupon that can be combined with cash to buy a prize on a company website. It also offers wagering credits that can be used to play sweepstakes games, which look like casino-style slots. The patron can cash out by pushing a button and redeeming a coupon with his points on it.

Representatives from a Georgia-based company, Pace-O-Matic Inc., that manufactures gambling machines could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Munoz said players can lose money in the machines, but they’re not alone.

“The state of Illinois is a loser as well,” Munoz said in a statement provided to the AP. “None of the proceeds from these machines will ever find their way into the state coffers, unlike regulated gambling machines.”

The state takes 30 percent of receipts from authorized video gambling machines, with 5 percent going to the local government.

Munoz’s legislation is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Executive Committee.

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The bill is SB3479

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Illinois Gaming Board notice: http://1.usa.gov/1lcQ0A0

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Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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