Columns | Daily Chronicle

Eye On Illinois: Bribery trial a fine reminder to clear up ‘legal gray area’

The first time Terry Link’s name appeared in Eye On Illinois was Aug. 19, 2020, a few days after federal prosecutors charged him with filing a false income tax return in 2016. Link, then a Democratic member of the state Senate living in Vernon Hills, promptly resigned from the Legislative Ethics Commission.

It took another month for Link to announce his Senate resignation. He left his job as chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party only when his colleagues raised a ruckus about the possibility he’d specifically time his departure in order to be the only one who could name a replacement.

Link’s legislative career is in large part marked by his influence on expanding legalized gambling in Illinois. In 2018 he sponsored a bill to allow veterans groups to operate video gambling machines even within communities that had otherwise rejected such consoles. His efforts were instrumental in the 2019 expansion that cleared the way for casinos in Chicago and near Waukegan, where Link once unsuccessfully ran for mayor.

He resurfaced this week as a government witness in the prosecution of James Weiss, accused of bribing Link and state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, in order to benefit his business: sweepstakes machines. According to Capitol News Illinois, the devices “look similar to video gaming terminals [but] are wholly unregulated and are operating in a legal gray area.”

According to federal prosecutors, Arroyo, Link and Weiss met in August 2019 trying to convince Link to throw his legislative weight behind a full legalization of sweepstakes machines. Prosecutors say Arroyo had been getting monthly $2,500 checks from companies affiliated with Weiss, whose defense attorneys argue they were “legitimate consulting fees.”

Despite several subsequent denials, Link was at the time working with the federal government. Recordings of conversations with Arroyo eventually led to Arroyo’s 57-month federal prison sentence.

Link might not have been willing to cooperate absent concerns about liability for the tax evasion charge, a reminder that most prosecutions, civil or criminal, often hinge on leverage. Regardless of his exposure, Link’s record of successfully backing gambling expansion made him a natural target to carry water in Springfield.

At another August 2019 meeting, Arroyo gave Link Weiss’ business card, a signed check for $2,500 with the payee line blank and a draft of legislation to legalize sweepstakes machines.

Legislative ethics reformers will look at Link and Arroyo’s records to identify steps aimed at preventing recurrence, but as has been written about electric utilities and traffic camera companies, whenever government regulates a for-profit business, the door is open for attempts at currying favor, above board and below.

A much simpler step for current lawmakers is addressing the “legal gray area” of sweepstakes machines by enacting a black-and-white ban.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at