Man With Mob Ties Awarded Gambling License From Illinois Gaming Board

Written By C.J. Pierre on May 17, 2023
Organized Crime

A recent discovery may bring some trouble for the Illinois Gaming Board. The board granted a man who previously admitted to having ties to the Chicago mob a gambling license.

There are a lot of questions now swirling around restaurant owner Jeffrey Bertucci. The IGB granted him a license in 2019 to legally operate video gaming terminals at his suburban business. However, he has also testified that he has connections to people linked with the mob.

There are a lot of complicated elements in play. Now it is up to the current members of the board to sort out the story.

Bertucci granted immunity for testifying against mob’s “video poker king”

One of the gaming board’s jobs is to protect the integrity of legal gambling in Illinois. One of the ways they do that is by weeding out unsuitable license-holders and applicants for reasons including ties to organized crime.

In 2010, Bertucci, a Lemont resident, admitted in federal court that he received VGTs for his Cicero diner from an amusement company. That company was linked to James Marcello, one of the most feared figures in the Chicago mob.

Bertucci also testified that he got other gambling machines from a different operator, Casey Szaflarski, who federal authorities portrayed as the mob’s “video poker king.” Bertucci admitted he’d paid winnings to gamblers playing those devices. At the time, it was illegal to do that in Illinois. He also said he shared profits with Szaflarski.

Testimony also led to conviction of “The Large Guy” and pawnshop Polchan

In exchange for his testimony against Szaflarski, investigators granted Bertucci immunity. The case resulted in the conviction of the mob’s Cicero street boss, Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno. Pawnshop owner Mark Polchan, a high-ranking member of the notorious Outlaws Motorcycle Club, was also convicted.

Even after publicly speaking about his mob ties and illegal activities, the IGB still granted Bertucci a license in 2019 to legally operate VGTs at his restaurant.

How did this happen?

Bertucci still runs the same Cicero diner with video gaming devices that make payouts. State records show the gaming board has legally licensed Bertucci’s Firebird Enterprises, Inc. to operate VGTs at the diner since 2019.

Gaming board spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaufman told the Chicago Sun-Times that Bertucci submitted a video gaming license application in June 2018 and received licensure in January 2019. During that time, Agostino Lorenzini was the agency’s acting administrator. Lorenzini, now a senior adviser with the agency, told the Sun-Times that he doesn’t recall Bertucci’s company or the vote by gaming board members to license it.

Since 2019, six gambling devices at the restaurant have taken in more than $4.3 million in bets. The establishment and the gaming company providing the machines split around $317,000 of that. During that time, the state received over $90,000 in taxes from that operation, and the town of Cicero has accumulated nearly $16,000.

What the IGB is telling Play Illinois

Play Illinois reached out to Kaufman for an update on the situation. She responded with a brief statement.

“We have nothing further at this time,” Kaufman said. “The IGB does not comment on pending, potential or actual investigations or about matters that are confidential under section of 6(d) of the Illinois Gambling Act.”

The IGB approved Bertucci’s gaming license before Marcus Fruchter, the current gaming board administrator, or any other current board member began their service. However, it is now on them to figure out why Bertucci was given a license despite his past.

Kaufman told the Sun-Times that the board has authority under the various gaming statutes and board rules to discipline licensees. That includes license revocation.

VGTS are the leading gambling sector in Illinois

Illinois has had casinos for decades. However, legislation legalizing video gaming didn’t come until 2009. Since it began in 2012, the popularity of video gambling has been on the rise.

VGTs are the leading gambling sector in Illinois.

In 2022, VGTs produced total income of more than $2.7 billion in Illinois. That’s double what Illinois casinos brought in and three-and-half times the revenue of Illinois sportsbooks.

Illinois casinos had adjusted gross receipts of nearly $1.35 billion in 2022. Illinois sportsbooks had revenue of $806 million last year.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at Play Illinois. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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