Inside an illegal gambling operation

If you were from the Maple Park, IL area, DJ’s Tavern West was the place to get some gambling done…until a May 28th bust, that is.  From the Daily Herald:

Court documents that detail the search of the tavern at 221 Main St. in Maple Park and the Yorkville home of its owner, David Weeks, paint a picture of a little Las Vegas in the cornfields.

Illinois State Police officers went undercover for a 15-month investigation of the tavern, which came to a head May 28 with the arrest of 12 people including Weeks, the bar manager, and the Maple Park village president. The Maple Park police chief was arrested about a week later.

The investigation found a complex gambling system mixed with a small-town openness, the records show.

According to court documents and officials, here is a look at how authorities say the operation worked:
Nearly three-quarters of the front room of the tavern was taken up by nine video slot machines all hooked up to pay out illegally, Melvin said. Just like in Las Vegas, patrons put cash into the machines and played until they ran out of money or decided to cash in credits.

Undercover officers said in the report winning players would tell whatever bartender was on duty how many credits they had earned and the bartender verified it by pushing a button next to the cash register, officials said.

Then money changed hands, something undercover officers said they witnessed more than 30 times.

The knob next to the cash register was wired to the video slot machines to allow resetting of the machines’ credits, the report said. Illinois State Police officer Joseph Stavola wrote in a court affidavit that the wiring was for “no purpose other than illegal gambling.”
According to court documents, police found much more to whet gamblers’ appetites.
Bartenders offered two rolls of five dice for $1. Winning rolls were based on poker categories such as a full house or four of a kind. Winners could earn free drink tokens, a six-pack of beer or for five of a kind, the cash pot, which could get as high as $500.
On Wednesdays, a vertical spinning wheel came out of the back office to offer $2 for one of the 120 lines on the wheel, according to court records. Patrons not present for the spin forfeited half of their winnings to help prime the pot for the following week’s spin.
The wheel, which was also used for local raffles, was so large that when officers raided the bar they had to disassemble it to make it fit through the front door.
Other gambling options changed by the season. In the fall, a football square pool offered a one in 100 chance for between $2 to $10 a square, court documents said. During the summer, a weekly race car pool offered a randomly selected NASCAR starting position and a percentage of the pot for those whose car finished first, second or third place.
Despite the plethora of games, there was one key reason officials focused on the Maple Park bar.
“Book making,” Melvin said. “That’s why we paid more attention.”

The Illinois Attorney General’s office estimates the video slot machines generated $700,000 a year in profits.

Officials won’t disclose how much the book making generated, but in a weekend raid on one of the duller professional sports betting times, officers seized $8,300 from the bar and $40,522 from the Yorkville home of the bar’s owner, according to court documents. Stavola wrote in court filings that a frequent patron at the bar told him Weeks netted $65,000 from the Super Bowl betting alone.

Court documents describe a complex system set up to take and pay out bets on professional sporting events. Patrons could cash checks at the bar, provided the money was going toward gambling. Bets and payouts for sporting events were kept separate from cash flow generated by other games. A cash register at the south and north end of the bar made the division possible.

Bets were primarily taken at the tavern by bar manager Michael Faber and sometimes through his cell phone, according to the documents. When he wasn’t around, bartenders would collect envelopes of money for him or pass out envelopes left by him to winning patrons. Undercover officers allege they repeatedly saw such envelope transactions and contacted Faber on his cell more than 18 times to place bets that totaled more than $2,000.

The gambling in DJ’s, as told by investigators

As a historian, stuff like this is invaluable in reconstructing the history of illegal gambling, which I think is just as important as legal gambling in understanding how Americans approach gambling. 

They didn’t, unfortunately, take action on the mystery mammal.

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