Not a game when business owner with old mob ties gets a gambling license

It’s now up to the Illinois Gaming Board to get to the bottom of why Jeffrey Bertucci got a gaming license, since his sketchy past was no secret.

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Gaming machines at Jeffrey Bertucci’s Steak N Egger diner in Cicero.

Gaming machines at Jeffrey Bertucci’s Steak N Egger diner in Cicero.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

It wasn’t too long ago that the gambling industry was once almost always synonymous with organized crime. 

You don’t have to be much of a high roller to get the connection, the subject of films like Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and real-life courtroom dramas that, at times, are more colorful than the big-screen tales.

At one of these legal proceedings here in Chicago in 2010, restaurant owner Jeffrey Bertucci testified that Casey Szaflarski — a man federal authorities described as the mob’s video poker king — provided him with a few gaming devices at his Cicero Steak N Egger diner.

Szaflarski “routinely collected money from the machines” he gave Bertucci and “divvied up the proceeds,” the Sun-Times reported at the time. Bertucci, who testified that he illegally paid out winnings from the gaming machines and split his take with the Szaflarski, also acknowledged in open court that he got some machines from a company owned by Outfit boss James Marcello. 

Editorial

Editorial

Bertucci publicly spoke of his mob ties and illegal activities, yet the Illinois Gaming Board granted him a license in 2019 to legally operate the video gaming machines at his west suburban business, the Sun-Times’ Robert Herguth and Tim Novak reported last weekend. 

Neither Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter nor the rest of the current board were serving the agency when state regulators green-lit Bertucci’s application for his Firebird Enterprises, Inc.

But now it’s up to them to get to the bottom of why Bertucci was given a license, even though his sketchy past was no secret. 

It is also no secret that Firebird gets its gambling devices from Accel Entertainment, a company whose lobbyists include a firm run by Michael Kasper, a top aide to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Whether that political connection played a role in clearing the way for Bertucci remains to be seen as the gaming board — whose job is to ensure that legal gambling is free from the taint of organized crime — investigates the matter.

The board, we think, cannot do enough to make sure that mob ties and old-school politics remain a thing of the past with gaming.

The board has authority under the various gaming statutes and board rules to discipline licensees, including license revocation, agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Kaufman told us.

Bertucci used to have video gambling machines at his Steak N Egger diner in the city, at 1174 W. Cermak Rd. He no longer does. But should Chicago eventually approve video gaming in its backyard, Bertucci could try cashing in some more.

Which makes the outcome of the investigation, for the city, even more crucial.

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