HomeIllinois Sports Betting NewsDiner Owner with Organized Crime Ties Under Scrutiny by Illinois Gaming Board

Diner Owner with Organized Crime Ties Under Scrutiny by Illinois Gaming Board

Patrons of the Bertucci's Steak N Egger Diner on West Ogden Ave. in Cicero - only about 10 miles southwest of Chicago - have been able to enjoy playing video gaming terminals during their visits to one of seven such establishments in the region that have served hungry visitors since 1955.

Image: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

But the Illinois Gaming Board has signaled that such activity may not be available much longer.

Diner owner Jeffrey Bertucci received a gaming license for the VGTs (known as video lottery terminals, or VLTs, in other states) back in 2019.

But in 2010, Bertucci testified in a federal trial involving organized crime that he had obtained his VGTs from James Marcello,a known mobster, and from Casey Szaflarski, a convicted felon known as “the video poker king of Chicago.”

Bertucci has acknowledged sharing in profits from the VGTs with Szaflarski, at a time when such machines were prevalent in Illinois but not considered to be legal.

Gaming board officials now object to Bertucci having failed to disclose his shady past when applying for the legitimate VGT license. None of the current board members were in office at the time Bertucci’s application was approved, and none of the previous members appear to have commented on the matter.

“Bertucci misrepresented the extent and duration of his involvement with and use of coin-operated amusement devices for illegal gambling purposes,” according to the board’s recent complaint.“Board Rule 310(a)(8) subjects a licensee to discipline for misrepresenting any information to the board. By engaging in the conduct described above, Bertucci’s company is subject to discipline.”

The granting of immunity in Bertucci’s case helped result in the convictions of mob boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno and pawnshop owner Mark Polchan. But that immunity doesn’t excuse his failure to be forthcoming on his VGT license application, board officials say.

The six VGTs at Bertucci’s diner have taken more than $4 million in bets since he was granted a license in Jan. 2019. Almost 10% of that amount is split between the owner and the machine operator, and the state has received nearly $100,000 in tax revenue from the lack of oversight by the board.

Bertucci’s Background

Bertucci was arrested in 2000 for having paid winnings to a customer from a coin-operated amusement device similar to the more modern VGTs, at a time when such activity was illegal.

But board officials have stated that while the agency was aware of that background at the time a VGT license was issued, the 2010 testimony was not disclosed – an omission likely to cost Bertucci his Steak N Egger diner gaming privileges.

The board’s lack of awareness about Bertucci’s testimony is curious because it was widely reported in the media at the time, and a simple internet search likely would have revealed it quickly.

According to the state gaming board, VGTs have been legal since 2019 at licensed retail, veteran, and fraternal establishments, as well as at truck stops. More than 8,300 licensed video gaming locations operate more than 46,000 VGTs across the state – comprising the largest video gaming network of its kind in the world, according to the board.

This means that all over Illinois, you can find such machines at restaurants, nightclubs, bars, gas stations, and liquor stores.

So-called “progressive jackpots” are capped at a maximum payout of $10,000, per state law.

The magnitude of VGT operations in Illinois is nothing short of remarkable. According to the board, $31 billion was wagered at the machines last year, resulting in $2.7 billion in revenue and $922 million in taxes to the state ($786 million) and to local municipalities ($136 million). Year-to-date figures in 2023 suggest that the numbers will grow modestly by the end of the calendar year.

Illinois casinos, which enjoy a lower tax rate than VGTs, produced “only” $366 million in taxes in 2022 to the state ($290 million) and to local municipalities ($76 million).

Online sportsbooks in Illinois, meanwhile, are only expected to generate about $170 million in total tax revenue. That means that VGTs dwarf the tax revenue brought in from casinos and sportsbooks combined.

Still, the state lottery is a major source of state tax dollars as well, with $833 million collected from mid-2021 to mid-2022 – the state’s “fiscal year.”

As for the Bertucci’s chain, its website boasts of cooking 1.3 million eggs per year, as well as 200,000 pounds of potatoes and 250,000 steaks.

Where Are They Now?

Marcello – sometimes known as “Little Jimmy”, “Jimmy Light” or as “Jimmy the Man” – since 2009 has been serving a life sentence for the murders of brothers Anthony “Tony The Ant” Spilotro and Michael Spilotro.

Marcello’s father, Samuel, was also a known mobster whose body was found in a 50-gallon steel drum in 1974 – possibly as a victim of a sandwich shop owner who refused Marcello’s attempts at extortion.

In 2010, Szaflarski was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to 3-and-a-half years in prison. Shortly before sentencing, he was allowed to attend the wedding of his daughter – but only under the condition that he not speak with the groom’s father, who had been convicted of the beating of a mobster and of the mobster’s 13-year-old son.

Sarno was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison after being convicted on charges of racketeering and involvement in the pipe bombing of a video and vending machine business.

He previously had been indicted in 1990, but immediately received a weekend furlough in order to get married before ultimately being convicted at that time of extortion.

Polchan – known as the leader of the notorious Outlaws motorcycle gang – got some modestly good news in 2021 when a judge cut in half his 60-year prison sentence for his own role in the pipe bombing. That reduction based on a legal technicality means that Polchan, 56, could be released in just 11 years.

For more news and information on the state of gambling in Illinois, follow us here at IL Betting.