Sweepstakes machines find way into town

The Review found them in five spots, so far

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By Maria Maxham

Video gambling machines, legal in Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) approved establishments holding liquor licenses in Illinois, were officially banned in Forest Park by resident vote on Nov. 6, 2018. But sweepstakes machines, not covered under this ban or regulated in any meaningful fashion, have been quietly popping up in and around Forest Park. 

The Review first reported on one in the Citgo gas station at 7323 Randolph in October 2018. Since then, more have appeared. In addition to the machines at the Citgo, there are three at the BP on Harlem, three at R Place on Harlem, two at the Beacon Pub, and three at Healy's West Side. 

There may be more, but since businesses do not require a license of any kind to install one, it's difficult for a town to keep track of how many exist. In Forest Park, establishments hosting sweepstakes machines – or any entertainment machines, for that matter – are supposed to purchase and display a village amusement sticker, but Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins said this rule is not always followed. 

For years, the Illinois Gaming Board has declared that sweepstakes machines are illegal. In their 2013 statement regarding the illegality of these machines, the agency stated that promoters of these devices exploit a "legal loophole" by "arguing that the purchase paid into the kiosks is for a coupon and not for the wagering credits." Also, since a user can play a limited number of games for free, gambling isn't necessitated, and the games provide an "alternate means of entry."

Sweepstakes machines look and function a lot like video gambling machines. At the machines in the BP on Harlem Avenue in Forest Park, users can play games for free at first if they provide their name, mailing address, and date of birth. If they want to continue playing after their free credits are used up, they can put money into the machine. The games simulate slot machines, featuring cherries, lemons, sevens, and gold bars. The player can press a button to "spin" and hope the game ends on a winning combination. Once finished, users can cash out, which allows them to print a receipt to bring to the cashier. At the BP on Harlem, the receipt can be redeemed for cash. 

Being able to play for free, claim sweepstakes machine manufacturers and distributors, is one of the key differences between their machines and legal gambling machines. However, the machines don't always work this way. In fact, at the Citgo on Randolph the sign above the machines reads: "TO ENTER WITHOUT PURCHASE… (a) ask the participating retailer for free daily entry, limited to one entry per day and usable only at the premises of that participation retailer." At this location, though, when the cashier was asked how to play, he said the user must put money into the machine to start. When asked about playing for free, he said the user can go online and print out a coupon but had no details on how to do that. He did not provide his name and declined an interview.

R Place and Healy's host Luxe Yard machines, which allow the player to redeem winnings for cash at the bar or coupons that can be used at the Luxe Yard Outlet website, where purchasable items range from Duck Dynasty water bottles to a couch selling for over $4,000.

Opponents of sweepstakes machines don't like the fact that they are not regulated as video gambling machines are. Businesses aren't required to have a license for them. And they're not taxed either. So sweepstakes machines profit only the gaming machine owner and the business hosting the machines. Therefore, for villages that allow legal gambling machines, which Forest Park does not, these sweepstakes machines can operate without any benefit to the village or state, taking away a viable revenue stream for these towns. According to a WBEZ investigation last year, legal gambling brought in more than $1.2 billion to the state of Illinois by the end of June 2018.

Another regulation that applies to legal gambling machines and not sweepstakes machines is that the legal machines are only allowed in establishments that already have a liquor license. Sweepstakes machines, however, can be placed anywhere. In fact, on the website of a local sweepstakes machine manufacturer and distributor, Jackpot Gaming, the company makes it clear that these machines are not bound by the same laws as the IGB sanctioned machines. "Electronic promotion kiosks have no restrictions at all," reads the web page and lists the types of locations they can be placed, including liquor stores, bars, laundromats and convenient [sic] stores. In all caps it then states, "NO LIQUOR LICENSE REQUIRED!" 

Other regulations that apply to legal gambling machines that do not apply to sweepstakes machines are a limit to the number of machines an establishment can have, whether or not a background check is needed to install a machine in a business, and whether or not the machine is required to actually allow players to win. None of these regulations are in place for sweepstakes machines.

Last Thursday, Hoskins had the police inspect machines he was aware of to see if they all had the village amusement sticker. About the issue of the machines in town, he said that village attorneys "are looking into it."

Several Chicago area townships and villages have banned these machines, including Oak Park, Skokie, Mount Prospect, Mundelein and Huntley.

Reader Comments

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William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 26th, 2019 7:33 AM

Ya just gotta laugh at how people will here try to dismiss the comments by other commenters who no longer live in FoPa, but will bring up some example in a town 57 miles away to try to make their point.

John Gorny  

Posted: September 25th, 2019 6:57 PM

If memory serves me correctly, anti-gambling crusader Kathy Gilroy won $25,000 playing a sweepstakes machine. She said God was rewarding her for opposing video gambling machines. She strenuously stated that playing a sweepstakes machine did not qualify as gambling.

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: September 21st, 2019 8:55 PM

Robert, like the video gambling machines, nobody wins (other than temporarily) on the machines, other than the owners of the machines. The longer you play, the more you lose overall. You can't beat the mathematics of it.

Robert Dravillas  

Posted: September 19th, 2019 12:23 PM

has anyone won any money on the sweepstakes machines? i've never heard of anyone playing them. just curious.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 18th, 2019 3:10 PM

Nick... I am so sorry. I apparently misunderstood your intentions ... probably because it sounded so much like you were taking a dig at folks in FoPa for finally making a decision after being blocked at every turn for four years. But not to worry- after 20 years, FoPa finally has a mayor who is actually committed to keeping people genuinely informed. So you should feel quite encouraged.

Nick Tricoci  

Posted: September 18th, 2019 2:50 PM

What's up Bill? Hope things are well. I have a lot of buddies all over thanks for noticing. But I'm just stating a fact that the city/residents removed a 5% increase and now added it on under 2 separate taxes. No discussion on one and then a town hall on the other after the tax was passed. I'm just stating things to keep people informed is all.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 18th, 2019 2:41 PM

Maybe, Nick, if your buddies in the bar business had just played fair and let voters "make a choice on gambling" back when they originally tried several years ago, a majority of those voters might have voted to allow it. I know I would have. At least until people like Mark Hosty and Tommy Svengali Mannix did everything they could to deny voters that simple right. So go blame them, not "Forest Park."

Nick Tricoci  

Posted: September 18th, 2019 2:05 PM

The village voted out video gaming which brought in 5% in tax. So now throw it out and the Council adds a 2% gas tax and now if pot is legal they add 3%. So instead of letting people make a choice on gambling, they take it away and throw more taxes on top of you. Well done Forest Park well done.

Michael Racanelli from Forest park  

Posted: September 13th, 2019 10:13 AM

Those pesky unintended consequences. Playing sweepstakes machines is like watching sports on standard def TV. No one would choose it but it works in a pinch. So any gamer with ways and means will spend their hard earned dollars outside of Forest Park, but those that need to "scratch that itch" can still do so in town, of course the town gives up all that revenue. Looks like everyone loses! It will be okay, I am sure people will come from all over to pay a few extra dollars for their weed to make up for the last blunder.

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 7:22 AM

For a good number of citizens, video gambling was not a morality issue, but an economic one. Gambling takes money away from the community in the long run (there is good evidence for this).

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 9:49 PM

Nope, not all people who are against video gambling are pro- dispensary. As with gambling, I want to see this on the ballot. I'll go along with whatever the majority of my neighbors want.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 3:45 PM

This village is whack. They voted out of video gaming (dumb) and now are complaining about the alternative that were available to businesses to earn some extra $$. But wait, all people clutching their pearls over this are okay with a pot dispensary on the same hallowed streets that video games hidden from street view were bothering them all. SMH at the stupidity.

Chuck Taddeo  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 9:46 AM

The Footloose town elders just don't get it, you can't legislate morality. Cognitive dissonance, they just voted to tax weed. I didn't know you can win a Duck Dynasty water bottle, sign me up.

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