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Video poker king gets three-plus years in prison

Casey Szaflarski as he departs from the Federal Building after his sentencing hearing. Tuesday, February 7, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Video poker king Casey Szaflarski may be a nice guy, but that doesn’t make him a good guy, a federal judge ruled Tuesday before sentencing him to more than three years behind bars.

Szaflarski may have been a gentleman to people, including the bar owners where he placed the Chicago mob’s video poker machines, but only because he could afford to be, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman determined.

After all, Szaflarski, 54, had guys like reputed Cicero mob boss Michael “Big Mike” Sarno behind him.

“Your character is no better than theirs,” Guzman told Szaflarski.

At trial, Szaflarski’s attorney, Catharine O’Daniel, suggested he did not know that the machines were used for illegal gambling.

At Szaflarski’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday, federal prosecutor Amarjeet Bhachu called that argument “one of the stupidest defenses I have ever heard in my life.”

Szaflarski’s attorney portrayed him as good family man to two daughters whom he ensured got a good education.

Szaflarski and his wife divorced in the mid-1990s, but it was “in name only,” his attorney said, without further explanation, and his daughters were surprised to learn about the divorce when it came up at trial.

The poker king is also hobbled by a seriously diseased spine, his attorney noted, in pleading for leniency.

Bhachu, though, asked the judge to send a message with the prison sentence – that those who decide to be lackeys to mobsters will pay a price.

“And you’re not going to get out of it because you sent your kids to school with dirty money,” Bhachu said.

Bhachu argued Szaflarski had no remorse for his crimes, visiting the bar owners after the feds raided their gambling machines to help get them back in business.

The judge agreed.

“He didn’t care,” Guzman said. “He just wanted the money.”