Here’s a question for the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB). How can a man connected to organized crime be granted a gaming license?
At first glance, there is nothing unusual about Jeffrey Bertucci, who operates six video gaming terminals (VGTs) in his Steak ‘N Egger franchise in Cicero, Ill. However, records show that in testimony, Bertucci admitted to running VGTs illegally and sharing profits with the mob before the terminals’ legalization in Illinois in 2009. His 2010 testimony gave him immunity, while it helped to put three mobsters behind bars.
The information that came to light in a May 12 Chicago Sun-Times article has prompted the board to investigate. However, past actions by IGB suggest that a mob connection might not lead to the revocation of a license in the state.
In a Mob Racketeering Case, Bertucci Admitted to Illegal Operations
In the 2010 case, Bertucci testified as a witness against Casey Szaflarski, known as the mob’s “video poker king.” Bertucci said he would illegally get VGTs from Szafiarski and split profits 70/30. His testimony led to the conviction of the mobster. Along with Szafiarski, the testimony helped to convict Cisero mob street boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno, and pawnshop owner Mark Polchan, a high-ranking member of Outlaws Motorcycle Club (one of the most significant bike gangs in the US).
Bertucci also admitted to getting machines from another mobster, Michael “Micky” Marcello. Marcello is the brother of Chicago mob boss James Marcello. Neither brother got convicted from Bertucci’s testimony.
Furthermore, Bertucci also said he ran illegal VGTs in his other Steak ‘N Egger location in Chicago but that he doesn’t now. While the machines are legal in the state, Illinois’ unique gambling laws allow municipalities to have the final say. Chicago does not allow VGTs, but that can change with incoming mayor Brandon Johnson.
Politics Could Have Helped Bertucci to Obtain a License
Bertucci’s company, Firebirds Enterprises, uses machines from Accel Entertainment. According to its website, Accel is the biggest terminal operator in the US. The Chicago Sun-Times points out that Accel’s lobbyists include a company run by Michael Kasper, a top aide to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. VGTs were legalized under Madigan’s tenure.
But that’s not the only connection of Bertucci to politics. Nearby McCook’s major, Terry Carr, and his father, also Terry Carr, are the Steak ‘N Egger franchise owners. The senior Carr is also a Willow Springs village trustee. They are the son and grandson of Steak ‘N Egger founder and former Cook County (center of Chicago metro) Commissioner Allan Carr.
The family operates VGTs in four Steak ‘N Egger locations. In the McCook restaurant, they use machines by Accel. Meanwhile, in the other three, the Carrs use Gold Rush Gaming (GRG) terminals owned by Rick Heidner. In 2019, IGB moved to revoke Heidner’s license as he was accused of trying to pay $5 million to a business owner who planned to remove GRG terminals. In 2021, IGB and Heidner settled, and he kept his license.
While it’s unknown whether politics helped Bertucci to receive a license, another intriguing fact also points toward that. Mile Konjevic was another witness in the 2010 hearing. He admitted he also illegally paid winners from VGTs at his McCook gas station. However, when he applied for a license later, he was denied.
Illinois Gaming Board Likely to Investigate
Historically, gambling was associated with crime. Now, many states and agencies have changed that and are battling to ensure integrity and growth for the legal gambling industry. So that might be why the IGB is trying to ensure it gets to the bottom of Bertucci’s license approval.
None of the board’s current members were in position when Bertucci got his license in January 2019. When asked, Agostino Lorenzini, the board administrator at the time, said he didn’t recall the application or vote. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kaufman, IGB spokeswoman, said the board is seriously looking into the matter. She added the board does not comment or release any information on investigations. If it finds any wrongdoings, IGB has the power to discipline licensees or revoke their licenses.
However, past actions of the current board members show a mob connection may not be sufficient for license revocation.
A 2019 investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed that Heidner had a business connection with a family tied to the mob. However, the investigation, plus multiple other negative headlines surrounding Heidner, did not convince IGB of any wrongdoing when it later settled and reinstated his license.
Additionally, one of Heidner’s competitors, James J. Banks, allegedly has mob connections. The Chicago lawyer and banker, who served on the Illinois Tollway board under five governors, initially got denied a gaming license. But after a lengthy process, IGB granted him a license to supply VGTs earlier this year. The board did not say what evidence led it to change its decision.