A federal jury has convicted a Chicago business person of attempting to pay off two state lawmakers to pass a bill beneficial to his sweepstakes gaming company and then lying about it to the FBI.
After a weeklong trial, James T. Weiss was found guilty on multiple counts of fraud, bribery and making false statements to federal agents. Weiss is the manager of Collage LLC, a company manufacturing retail gaming devices, which it claims are a form of sweepstakes, legal under federal law.
The charges stem from accusations that he bribed state lawmakers in an effort to get a bill passed that would help the sweepstakes industry.
Sweepstakes bribery scheme
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, evidence showed that Weiss paid thousands of dollars in bribes to Luis Arroyo through Arroyo’s private lobbying firmin 2018 and 2019. Arroyo was an elected official in the Illinois State House at the time.
Prosecutors claim Weiss wanted the state’s gambling expansion bill to include language explicitly legalizing sweepstakes machines. However, it was eventually left out of the proposal in the 2019 spring session. Weiss then agreed to pay monthly $2,500 bribes to get a deal done, first to Arroyo and later to then-State Senator Terry Link, who was a chief sponsor of the gambling bill in the Senate.
Weiss and Arroyo did not know that Link was cooperating with the FBI. Link was looking for a break on his own federal tax conviction in exchange for his cooperation.
Arroyo pleaded guilty to similar charges as Weiss in 2021. He is currently serving a five-year sentence in federal prison. Weiss is waiting for his sentencing, which will likely be a stiffer penalty. He could serve a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Illinois lawmakers still trying to figure out what to do with sweepstakes machines
Sweepstakes machines are gambling devices that can look like video slot machines. Instead, they offer “free play” options and coupons to users.
Video gaming terminals have become an essential part of the Illinois economy. They are the state’s second leading gambling sector, after the Illinois Lottery.
According to the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, VGTs: “generated over $2.6 billion in net terminal income in FY 2022, a 36.1% increase over the FY 2021 total of $1.9 billion. Approximately $130 million in tax revenues to local governments were generated in FY 2022, as well as over $760 million to the Capital Projects Fund.”
Concerns over the impact that revenue can have is one reason the state hasn’t had much success passing online casino legislation.
Video gaming terminals are not available everywhere in the state. Municipalities can decide on an individual basis whether or not to allow them. In places where they aren’t legal, sweepstakes businesses like Weiss’ see an opportunity.
There was an attempt in the Illinois Legislature to outlaw sweepstakes machines formally. However, most retailers that have these devices are opposed to the plan. A bill was passed in the State Senate. However, it stalled in committee in the State House.
The legislature has adjourned for the year. But it is also important to note that Legislative Sessions in Illinois last two years. That means the bill will remain active in 2024 and could pass then.